Friday, December 18, 2009

The Got Milk Party Gave Me Six Good Reasons to Cheer Up About The Holidays

A couple of weeks ago my daughters and I were invited to the Got Milk Holiday Lattes party at one of my favorite places, La Pain Quotidien. (Don't worry - I can't pronounce it, either.) I have to admit I wasn't in the most festive mood - it had been a hectic workday and I was feeling the pressure of the holidays bearing down on me - the usual stress of too much to do and too little time. Oh, and too little money. And too many presents to wrap. And not enough wine.

But as I've said before, those Got Milk people know how to party, and as soon as I walked into their festive event I felt the holiday spirit come over me. Or was it the Eggnog Rum Latte? Either way, here are a few more reasons I may have cheered up a bit.

1) Nice people with trays of lattes that they gave to me. Anyone who knows me and my deep, unnatural, in-need-of-a-twelve-step-program obsession with coffee knows that for me, a room full of roving baristas dispensing free coffee is like putting cat in a box made entirely out of tuna and yarn balls.

2) They had trays of sublime pastries to go with those lattes. Again, like tuna and yarn balls - that's how happy I was.

(This latte was a Toffee Mocha that had bits of crushed toffee bar sprinkled on it. WIN.)

3) Our lovely hostess, Angelina.
You know one of those people who is always genuinely cheerful? That's Angelina. Even hosting a room full of rowdy bloggers, she managed to be in a good mood - I may need to bring her along Christmas shopping to keep me from going over the edge. (Don't tell the Got Milk people, but my girls actually call these get-togethers 'Angelina's Parties.')

4) Really, really nice crafts not the snow scene made out of cotton balls that I would have come up with. They had a professional scrapbooker giving instructions on how to make these amazing gift boxes. My 11-year-old sat down to make one as soon as we got there and was completely engrossed until we left almost two hours later. That's one-hour and fifty-five minutes longer than she stuck around the last time I suggested we make a Christmas tree out of post-its.

5) I now have an appreciation for eggnog. I don't drink eggnog - I put it in the same category as non-alcoholic beer and fat-free mayonnaise as things that sound great in theory but WHY BOTHER. But then one of those lovely baristas handed me an Eggnog Rum Latte and next thing I know I'm saying things like, "I'm going to marry you, eggnog" and "I live in the United States of Eggnog." Some say it was the rum talking, but I think they just don't know eggnog like I know eggnog. Here's the recipe so you can witness the power of eggnog for yourself. (They left out the rum, so at the end just write in, "Add rum.") I'm also including the recipe for the Toffee Mocha I had. You could probably write in, "Add rum" to the end of this one, too. (Click on the image to make it easier to read if the type is too small. Or if you've "Added too much rum.")

6) A good excuse to slow down and hang out with my girls. After the event my two daughters and I enjoyed a nice, relaxing al fresco dinner. I got that wine I was lacking, and we had the chance to sit and talk (really fast, I might add, after all those coffees.)

I definitely went home feeling much less cranky about the holidays and I have the Got Milk people to thank for that. I wonder how they'd feel about wrapping presents?

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blackberry Vs. iPhone: An Unfinished Duel Fueled By Fast Food

I was at a party a couple of weeks ago and had to interrupt a conversation to take a call on my iPhone from one of my daughters. They were staying home alone for the first time, so I wanted to make sure they hadn't set the house on fire or weren't having any wild parties. Or if they were having a party to remind them not to eat all the Fritos - I hate coming home from a night out and not having anything to go with my bean dip.

Right after I got off the phone the guy I was talking to whips out his iPhone and says, "What apps do you have?" I couldn't believe it - didn't he want to know how my kids were? Or finish hearing me tell my fascinating story about my trip to Costco earlier? But then I got caught up in the moment and the next thing I knew I was knocking back another martini and yelling, "Dude, I've got Service Bell" just a little too loudly.

My point? There is no love greater than the love between an iPhone and its owner.

Except for the love between a Blackberry and its owner, that is.

My three best girlfriends have Blackberries, and to hear them talk you'd think the things were magic, capable of cleaning their houses, giving them backrubs and shaving six inches off their thighs. Okay, so they can take clear pictures with the built-in flash, and their carriers give them better coverage than AT&T (the only one that you can use with an iPhone.) Aren't there more important things than being able to finish a phone conversation without being dropped? What about making a piece of toast and then pretending to eat it? Or helping me figure out if I can afford a Chalupa?

I was given a Blackberry Tour smartphone and free coverage for a month to see what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to use my Blackberry as much as I would have liked since that month happened to be when the kids took turns being sick, and also happened to be the weeks when I spent 90% of my waking hours trying to find a high school for my kid - not an ideal time to learn how to use and fully utilize a new device. So, in order to give the Blackberry a fair shake, I'm going to reinstate my Blackberry starting the week after Christmas at my own expense. That's when the kids will be home, the holiday rush will be over and I'll be laying around the house trying to figure out how to pay for everything. The perfect time to distract myself with a new toy!

But in my short experience with my Blackberry, here's what I found:

- I really missed having a touch-screen like I do on the iPhone. I can see that the Trackball and scrolling system would take a little getting used to, although my friends pointed out that it would really reduce the number of butt-calls they receive from me. Apparently they don't like it when I unknowingly phone them and they have to listen to an entire fifteen minutes of me placing an order at Popeyes Fried Chicken.

- As any iPhone owner will tell you - it's great for everything except for making calls. The clarity of calls made on the Blackberry is far superior to the iPhone, and though I didn't use it enough to experience any dropped calls from what I hear it's a rare occurrence. My iPhone drops calls with maddening frequency, though I'm not sure if it's due to the phone itself or the service with AT&T. But on the plus side - the "Sorry - you're breaking up" excuse really comes in handy when you can't possibly listen to any more details about your friend's hernia operation.

- I have to admit I'm extremely jealous of the built-in flash on the Blackberry. What up iPhone? You can turn my phone into a light saber but you can't get me a decent photo of my friends inside a club? Also, the Blackberry has a video camera which I don't have on my prehistoric 2G iPhone. Which means I can't get any footage of those same friends gettin' down gangsta style to Super Freak, either. Lucky them.

- When I first saw the tiny keyboard on the Blackberry I wondered whose miniscule hands it was made for - Munchkins? Kittens? I was trying to figure out how I was going to type out a text on the teeny keys when a kind friend gently informed me that "you use your nails, not the pads of your giant fingers, you moron." That made things much easier, but the jury's still out on this one. It may take a little practice, and I'll let you know in my next review if I ever master the fine art of nail typing.

That's all I've got for now. Join me next time as I use my Blackberry to surf the net, send an MMS and update my Facebook status. Oh, and email my lunch order to Popeyes.

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On the topic of phones and frazzled lives, I was given a few copies of The Blackberry Diaries by Kathy Buckworth to give away. Whether you're an iPhone user or a Blackberry devotee I'm sure you'll relate to this book about technology and motherhood. "Owning a Blackberry is a little like adding another child to your family. The device is constantly buzzing, poking and distracting its owner from whatever it is she's trying to acompish. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the uncooperative two-year-old hanging off Mom's leg at the Motor Vehicle Office."

To snag a copy for yourself, leave a comment here before 11:59pm on Sunday, December 20 and I'll use to pick two winners. (Entries from the continental U.S. only, please.) If you win I'll email you from one of my phones!

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Night Out With Dolby, The Black Crowes and a Digital Frame to Giveaway? Sounds Great!

Update: 12/16 - The winner has been picked! See below.

Last weekend we were invited by Dolby to check out their Surround Sound Truck and be their guests at the Black Crowes concert at Club Nokia. Hard to resist, especially since my husband and I have been eager to check out the scene at LA Live, the new entertainment complex adjacent to the Staples Center. A little Dolby demo, a little rock and roll and a date night without the kids - much better than the fast-food and laundry I had originally planned.

The Dolby Truck is touring the West Coast to show you what Dolby sound can do for your home theater, PC and even your cell phone. You're probably already familiar with Dolby sound at your local multi-plex, but Dolby in your home theater could do wonders for your cinema experience. Imagine seeing your favorite movie and hearing the guns firing right past your head! Or, in the case of the movies I've been seeing with my teen girls lately, hearing the sounds of true love brewing. Hey, you have your movie-going experience and I have mine.

The Dolby Truck, which we visited across from the Staples Center, is a mobile home theater outfitted with a huge screen and killer sound system - pretty much what every guy wishes he had on a camping trip! We were treated to a clip of Angelina Jolie's thriller, Wanted, and the sound was very impressive - so impressive in fact, that I rented the DVD last weekend after initially not wanting to see the movie at all. Although I have to say part of that reluctance is that I just figured it was about another kid that Angie and Brad wanted to adopt. Who knew it was about assassins?

We also saw what Dolby sound can do for your PC, since more and more people are watching movies and TV on their computers. I do - I'd much rather watch a Judd Apatow movie in my office through a pair of headphones than worry about turning down the volume every time I was afraid my daughters would hear a penis reference (which in his movies is around every 2.5 seconds. Yes, I timed it.) Unfortunately, I'm a die-hard Mac girl and the Dolby sound is currently only available on PC's, but hopefully someday in the future Apple and Dolby will join forces. Perhaps we'll need Clinton to broker that deal.

Something my husband and I were amazed by was the incredible sound that Dolby has managed to bring to the mobile phone. We listened to a Chocolate LG Touch through a pair of headphones and the sound blew us away - even better than what I'm able to get out of my iPod. Plug in a pair of headphones (I just used my ear buds) and listen to a demo featuring Ciara here. Switch the Dolby to 'on' and 'off' to hear the difference.

Again, sadly, the Dolby sound isn't available on the iPhone, my device of choice at the moment. Curse you superpowers and the forces that keep you apart!

After overstaying our welcome at their super truck (they're nice people, and didn't even ask us to leave after we'd watched the clip of Angelina taking out all the bad guys like fifty times) Dolby treated us to the Black Crowes concert at Club Nokia. Before heading over to the venue, my husband and I decided to splurge on a meal at one of our favorite sushi restaurants, Katsuya, one of the many places to eat in LA Live. Their food is sublime, and if they had made a movie of us eating and put it to Dolby sound the only thing you would have heard is us saying, "Can you believe how good this is?" over and over again. Well, that and "What the hell was Tiger Woods thinking?"

The concert itself was awesome - it was the first time seeing the Black Crowes live. Of course, since I spend a great deal of time writing about celebrities, I couldn't help wondering what exactly went wrong between Chris Robinson and Kate Hudson? And what does he think of Alex Rodriguez? I don't know why, but after all that, and after I mistook a peace sign on the stage for a Mercedes logo, my husband kept telling me to stop thinking out loud. Geez.

To top off our great evening, Dolby gave me a digital photo frame to give away to a lucky reader. This is one of those nifty things that you could maybe load up with lots of photos and music and give to a loved one as a gift to remind them of you. I was heading towards another Tiger Woods joke but I'll stop now.

If you want to win, leave a comment telling me where sound is most important to you - at the movies? In your home theater? On your PC? (Keep it clean - I don't want any references to those home movies you shot back on Spring Break.) Leave your comment before 11:59pm on Sunday, December 13 and I'll use to pick a winner. (Entries from the continental U.S. only, please.) Good luck! May the next sound you hear be my voice announcing you as the winner. In Dolby, of course.

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Update: 12/16: WINNER PICKED

I put all the entries into the random list generator and let it do its thing.


Congratulations to Bernadette Batts of Bern Baby Bern! Bernadette, please email me and let me know how to get your digital frame to you!

And thanks to everyone who entered - I have lots more giveaways coming up, including a really big one.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

The Holiday Celebration at Disneyland Saved My Family From A Day Of Angst

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving we were invited to Disneyland for the Holiday Celebration for Parent Bloggers. I know it sounds like a crazy time to go, but it actually worked in my favor since it prevented me from sitting around and obsessing about the 30 people that would be coming over to my house for turkey and the eight-pounds of mashed potatoes I was going to have to prepare.

Eight hours spent having fun instead of vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, barking at the kids to clean their room and nagging my husband to clean off the patio! I know they all missed that holiday tradition, but I got plenty of yelling in on Thanksgiving eve. Everyone wins!

This is our favorite time of year to go to Disneyland. Sure it's a little crowded, but it's worth it to see all the beautiful decorations and it really gets me into the holiday spirit. It's hard not to be festive when you're standing in front of a thousand-foot tree. This one is right at the entrance to Main Street, and there are tons of people in front of it posing and taking photos for their holiday cards. I tried to get my daughters to pose for one but they wouldn't, so I took a picture of some family from Iowa and they'll be on our card this year. I'm sure they won't mind.

Also, check out Sleeping Beauty's Castle that's all decked out for the holidays. It's even more breathtaking in person, and the best part is it's open for the walkthrough. This was the first time my daughters had been through it - the last time we were there the line was too long. Priceless Disneyland Tip That Makes Me Sound Like An Expert: Go towards the end of the evening, when Fantasyland seems to clear out.

We got a late start, mainly because we were exhausted from a party we threw at our house the night before. Have I told you we're insane? We like to plan multiple events, back-to-back, just to see if any of us will collapse from the frenzy. But it all worked out, because we had just enough time to ride a few rides before we headed on over to the banquet for the wonderful party the Disneyland people had put together for all of us. There was lots of amazing food, but I had to take a picture of the dessert tray. I'm not really even a big dessert fan, but I was fixated on these. After I took this picture I went over to the buffet table and had a huge slab of roast beef. I didn't take a picture of that.

I finally got to meet Allegra Gonzalez and her three beautiful daughters, the winners of my Disneyland VIP giveaway. A friend of mine knows Allegra, and she told me she knew we'd along and she was right. They're a great family, and it was good for me to see how cool, calm and collected someone with three teenagers can be - Allegra has 13-year-old twins and a 15-year-old. It gave me hope for my future after all.

One of the things my 11-year-old was the most excited about was a demonstration put on by Disneyland's pastry chef. I'm not kidding - she had talked about it ever since we got the invitation, and she probably would have gladly missed going into the park if that pastry demo had gone on all night. So you can imagine how excited she was when the chef invited her onstage to help make a yule log! Forget the Jonas Brothers - she was helping a real live pastry chef roll out dough. I'm sure this is how Rachael Ray got her start.

My girls were also treated to complimentary hair-makeovers at Studio 365. Twenty-five minutes, three packets of extensions and several gallons of hairspray later, they came out with truly glamorous, and big, hair. I had to break the news to them that not in a million years would I ever be able to re-create these hairstyles:

And what Disneyland visit would be complete without a ride on It's A Small World? It's been decorated inside and out for the holidays. Honestly, I never get tired of this ride, even though my girls insist it's only because it's air conditioned and I get to sit down for an extended period of time. Maybe so, but I seem to remember us all humming the theme song for the rest of the night.

The evening ended with one of Disneyland's impressive signature fireworks displays, and then 'snow' falling on Main Street as White Christmas played. What an awesome day. Thanks to Disneyland for treating my family and our guests to a magical, angst-free day! I didn't think once about those mashed potatoes.
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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hello Friend! Fresh & Easy On My Doorstep

A couple of weeks ago I came home from running errands and found two big boxes on my doorstep. I've mentioned before about my paranoia and how I once mistook a package from Apple for an explosive device sent to me by an evil entity, so you can imagine my suspicion at discovering two mysterious parcels waiting for me. I had my iPhone at the ready, prepared to call 911 at a moment's notice. Actually, I was going to use my Bomb Diffuser 2.1. Yes, there's an app for that.

So you can imagine how relieved I was to discover the two boxes were actually from Fresh & Easy - they had come in peace, and were not an attempt on my life. I love it when my day starts off with a positive.

The nice people at Fresh & Easy had put together a sampling of some of their holiday products for me to try, so I changed out of my bullet-proof vest, called off the bomb-sniffing dogs and got down to business. Here are a few of my favorites:

Cranberry and Nut Popcorn Clusters - I'm not a huge fan of caramel corn. To me, most of it tastes like Cracker Jack but without the benefit of the toy. But this stuff has me hooked, probably because it's not as sticky-sweet as most others I've tried and the dried cranberries and nuts give it a nice twist. I wouldn't mind finding a toy buried at the bottom of the cylinder, though.

Gourmet Belgian Biscuit Collection - Somehow, calling these cookies 'biscuits' make them sound so much more civilized. And less fattening. And easier to eat several of them without getting that gluttonous, I-ate-too-many-cookies feeling. These are very good, and a nice accompaniment to my late-afternoon cappuccino and also a nice addition to my girls' lunchboxes. Although they call them cookies, not biscuits.

Chocolate Mint Thins - Okay, I have to admit I was a little disappointed when I bit into one of these and discovered they were not similar to the Girls Scout's Thin Mints like I was expecting. Instead of a minty wafer inside, they have a minty cream - think of a thin version of a Junior Mint. But leave it to the kids to save the day - my youngest sandwiched one of these between two graham crackers and created the most delicious little sandwich cookie invention, ever. They even came up with a name for it - the Minty S'More. I didn't have the heart to tell them it sounded like a stripper name.

I also received a nice bottle of Ogio Prosecco Spumante (champagne to you and me) that I gave away as a gift. The packages arrived shortly before we were leaving to see my nephew perform in a college production of Sweeney Todd, so I thought this would make the perfect after-performance gift. I forgot the campus was dry, though, which would explain why he looked in the bag and said, "Thanks for the cookies!" before hiding it under his coat. I'll have to ask him what he thought of the Prosecco - I just hope he didn't drink it out of a beer bong.

I loved getting the holiday gifts, but I do my everyday shopping at Fresh & Easy, too. Here are my staples I pick up there regularly:

  1. Parmesan and Garlic Pita Chips - My 13-year-old's favorite. Since going vegetarian, she often asks for these, some hummus and cut-up veggies in her lunch. It doesn't get any easier than that.
  2. Maple Pecan Granola Clusters - The. Best. Granola. Ever. Even for a non-granola person like me. I use mine to top my yogurt and my 11-year-old eats it straight out of the bag, like potato chips.
  3. Thick Sliced Bacon -BACON! THICK SLICES OF IT! That is all.
  4. Hummus - See #1.
  5. Fresh Mozzarella - I slice it up and use it to top roma tomatoes and basil for our favorite caprese salad. But I also eat it straight out of the carton, like potato chips. I'm sure you see the theme here.
  6. Restaurant Style Salsa - We eat chips and salsa at some point almost every day. Sometimes we'll go through two containers of this in a week. They call it restaurant-style, but I think it tastes even fresher than what you'll find in some restaurants. You know the ones.
I have to confess that ever since Fresh & Easy came on the scene I've been shopping less and less at Trader Joes. I suspect this will continue to be true through the holidays, since around this time the parking lot at Trader Joes gets pretty heated and intense, and I have no desire to die for a box of organic couscous. Also, the Fresh & Easy website has coupons ($6 off a $30 purchase!) and who doesn't want to save a few bucks during the holidays? Hey, those iPhone apps aren't going to buy themselves.

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