You Scream, I Scream, we all Scream…Tofurkey!

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

This is not a vegetarian blog, but I try to write about the things I encounter in daily life, and well, it’s Thanksgiving.  For most of us, that means gathering around a roasted turkey (which yes, does smell utterly delicious), piling orange potatoes on our plates, and generally appreciating the circumstances in which we exist.  Though I may bristle a bit at its origin, I am a fan of Thanksgiving.  It’s a time to lay cynicism down and appreciate the people I love.  I can dig that.

But there is no turkey in my holiday repast.  I’m a vegetarian.  Don’t think it’s not hard – I smell rotisserie, and yes, yes, I miss things like slow cooked turkey and chicken caesar salads and even the occasional taco.  I made this choice though, and I’m stickin’ with it.  I’m happy to.

So this year’s Thanksgiving posed a problem; I can’t eat turkey.  I despise cranberry sauce, loathe yams, and am genuinely frightened at what people try to pass off as green bean casserole these days.  So far, all that was left was the mysterious spinach my grandmother brought, and the dessert plate friends placed waaay too close to my chair.  The former could make me gag and the latter would only result in summer swimsuit nightmares.

In search of protein, I bought a Tofurkey roast, which came in a box – a concept that scared me a little.  Hmmm, unknown soy meat lookalike carefully packed much like a bar of soap?  Sure.  Right.

My mother the Thanksgiving hostess would have naught to do with it.  She sneered at my fake meat box like Britney Spears would to a recording studio denuded of Autotune.  Mom was polite, but I could tell she regarded my Tofurkey as a kind of holiday abomination, an apostate to the Giving of Thanks creed.  Surely no small child would trace his or her hand with crayon on paper and then name it a tofurkey.  That’s not natural.

Photo credit: Brandon Vogel, Gwen Feldman, Fake Turkey

Photo credit: Brandon Vogel, Gwen Feldman, Fake Turkey

Still, what’s a veggie to do?

Don’t get me wrong; I was nervous.  I packed a shopping bag full of extra firm tofu and nutritional yeast (please stop gagging, it’s distracting) for a quick ‘fu fry in the case that things got disgusting.  I didn’t want to be hungry at Thanksgiving dinner.

I arrived at my parents’ abode early to cook my Tofurkey.  The fake meat frightened others, I think.  Mom told me its preparation was in my hands.

It took a few attempts to secure the strange looking oblong mass from its plastic encasing.  The Tofurkey loaf was part football, part luncheon mystery meat, and part spaceship.  Or it seemed that way.

Loosely following instructions, I prepared a marinade consisting of olive oil, soy sauce, pepper, dried garlic and salt.  Using half, I basted the loaf in its casserole dish and shoved the sucker in the oven at 350 degrees.  An hour and a half later, I painted the rest of the mixture over the cooking fake turkey and stuffed it back in the oven.

A few minutes later, the last of our Thanksgiving party arrived, and I was thrilled to find there was another vegetarian among them.  Not only was he happy to try my Tofurkey, he was willing to carve it.  That means a lot when you’re clumsy and not allowed near knives, like me.  You can check out the carving of my fake bird meat loaf above.

So was it a dead ringer for our feathered turktastic friends?  Absolutely not.  The texture was a little like you’d expect from a chicken sandwich at McDonalds, or from a cafeteria meat.  The processed nature of the non-beast was evident.  But the flavor was not disappointing.  I think the loaf would have been okay on its own (though I love tofu and paneer – bland things that could perhaps be indicative of my tastes), but the marinade I’d whipped up went a long way in flavoring the mass.  I ate most of my serving and enjoyed it.  The other vegetarian at the table was left rubbing his tummy in appreciation.

The texture gave the faux-nature of the Tofurkey away, but it wasn’t unpleasant.  I was able to easily cut it with a knife, and the “meat” had a fake “skin” to it, which tasted like the real thing, with the exception of the little bumps (of which I am not a fan, anyway).  The marinade miraculously sunk in most of the way, flavoring the stuff pretty well.

The Tofurkey loaf came hollowed out, a portion filled with vegan “stuffing.”  I’ve not touched stuffing since 1987, when it inspired me to vomit profusely in front of my mother’s Mah Jong group, and I wasn’t about to try swallowing the animal friendly version this time around.  It’s a texture thing.  The other veggie at the table scarfed it down though, and proffered two thumbs up.  He also ate the vegan mushroom gravy that accompanied the Tofurkey, and declared it satisfying.  To me, sauces are used to disguise evil.  I don’t go for them.  So I practiced restraint when the “fravy” was passed my way.  I was told that it was delicious, though.  Sorry, guys.

I’ll be honest – Tofurkey is not a turkey clone.  But then again, I don’t think that any of us who eschew meat are expecting that.  Anything too close would be…too weird?  But when you regard it as a protein replacement/supplement, especially in the setting of a large, communal dinner, it more than fits the empty turkey place.  Follow the directions and I think you’ll be satisfied.  I was.

Non-veggies might even enjoy Tofurkey on its own merits – you never know.  I would have liked it six months ago when I used to eat chicken sandwiches.  Still, even if you hate the stuff, if you’re about to entertain vegetarian guests, Tofurkey may just be a great way to fill their bellies.

Is it perfect?  Nope.  I’m certainly going to try products by the brand’s competitor, Quorn.  But so far, Tofurkey seems to get the holiday job done.

GeekTalk: The Droid

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Last Friday I donned my black suit, pinned my hair, and stepped into my conservative heels; it was time for my second interview.  I’d been through the first appointment with a company that really piqued my interest.  This time I was interviewing at a different branch some twenty five miles out.  And I had no clue where it was.

Not to worry, I had my faithful Garmin GPS in my trunk.  I’ve been happily dependent on satellite directions ever since one wrong turn found me lost by the South Boston docks during the wee hours of the morning and it took me until 7 am to find my way home (yes, I am that hopeless).

I hopped in my Honda, plugged in the GPS, and cheerfully wiggled my nose in anticipation of plugging in my destination.  All signs pointed to a prompt arrival until the GPS rolled its eyes, gave me the finger, and died.  Isn’t there some kind of law that states that technology is bound to sputter out when it’s most needed?  Oh. Yeah.

That’s why I was so intrigued when Brandon (fellow resident of the Staycation Lab) brought home his shiny, new

Photo Credit: www.SmartDeviceCentral.com

Photo Credit: www.SmartDeviceCentral.com

Verizon phone, the Droid.

We love gadgets here at Cool Stuff, so of course anything with wireless access and a glistening, clear display is embraced.  I’m not too big into hyperbole, but man, this industrial cutie is fierce.

Let’s start with the obvious.  With its 3.7 inch WVGA, movie screen display, it elbows out the iPhone in visibility and sheer yum factor.  Installed memory maxes out at 16gb, but can be expanded to double the capacity, which puts my iPod to shame.  Networking and connectivity – check.   Wifi looks pretty up on this one.  Plus Google‘s got its hot hands all over this thing (and let’s face it: Google is the IT girl among current competitors); with pre-installed apps like Google Talk (like a chat program for your phone), Exchange support, multimedia player, etc.

It’s Google that adds the oomph, and this is what brings me to the GPS capability of the phone.  With Motorola’s proprietary voice recognition software, use of Google maps has pretty much just made my dead Garmin extinct.  Say a street address, utter the name of a restaurant, or even mention the title of a museum exhibit, and Google Map’s turn by turn instructions get you there – vocally.  With consistent access to Google’s finger on the ever changing pulse of the internet, you can expect information to stay current (which would have been great for me last year when my GPS guided me to a Pizza Hut that had been condemned a year earlier).

Brandon purchased a Droid car mount – insert the phone into the mount, and the Droid enters ‘car mode,’ an intuitive interface that allows voice commands and acts more like a Tom Tom than Brandon’s own Tom ever did.  With large icons and a simplified screen, it’s easy to see how one might kick their dash-mounted GPS to the curb – after all, this droid lets you socialize, too (remember it’s a phone?).

As a Blackberry user, I gravitated immediately to the physical QWERTY keyboard, though the Droid’s oh-so-responsive touch screen has one, too.  I’m told the latter has a bit of a steep learning curve, as the narrow keys allow for clumsy fingers. You can forget passwords to unlock your screen as well – instead, expect a connect the dots prompt to activate your phone out of sleep mode.

Don’t expect any sexy curves here.  Slightly larger and heavier than the iPhone and embellished with right angles, this kitten is all about performance.  It’s not the kind of phone you’d expect to see perverted by a mass of Swarovski crystals (though no offense to the folks who like the look).  It’s the power of the Droid’s engine and not the chrome that takes center stage.

Oh, and there’s a 5.0 megapixel camera with flash and variable color and light affects.  You wanna solarize that?  No prob.  Invert to negative?  That will just be a moment.  The best part is that with its clear resolution, this gives the reluctant casual photographer every reason to ditch the disposable camera (and yes, I know you’re out there).

Linux aficionados will have to wipe the drool off their faces (and perhaps offer a small prayer of thanks to Holy Linus) when they lay eyes on the Droid’s acceptability of third party programs, due to its open source friendliness.  There’s no app for that?  Well, make one.  Duh.

If this phone could cook a decent vegetarian dinner, get me that job and book my appointments for me, I think I very well could marry it.

In short, I want one.

Don’t Go Far!

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Stay tuned! More Staycation product testing scheduled in the lab tonight – reviews on the way!

Review: EOS Balm

Saturday, November 14th, 2009
Photo Credit: EvolutionOfSmooth.com

Photo Credit: EvolutionOfSmooth.com

Chapped lips is a condition that afflicts many; for most it’s a seasonal inconvenience.  Winter, with its chill and dry air, is mortal enemy to delicate skin.  Lips do not naturally produce their own oil (no no, acne-phobes, oil is an essential ingredient for healthy skin, no matter the type – I’ll actually get to an oil cleansing regimen later).  Without any barrier to Jack Frost’s wind and bite, lips are prone to becoming dry, flaking messes when Daylight Saving ends.

Of course, then there are people like me. If you’re similarly afflicted, there’s no need to say anymore.  But to the majority, I’ll describe.

I’ve had chronically chapped lips, no matter what the season, always.  Really, always.  When I was a child my mother would sneak into my room at night and slather my lips in Vaseline.  It didn’t work.  My lips peeled.  They cracked.  They bled.

They still do.  I can’t wear lipstick (though that’s ok as I feel I look clownish with it) because it highlights my malaise.  During the day, parts flake off, leaving odd, negative spaces in my lips.  I have a big pout too, so it draws attention.

I saw a dermatologist recently, begging for some relief from the bleeding and pain.  She deemed me doomed, as with my sensitive skin and allergies, I am meant to suffer.  I refuse to believe this.  Thus I’ve begun my own experiment with alternatives.

My newest venture into the world of lip treatment has had me face to face with EOS’s lip balm.  The web site declares that this oddly shaped egg of balm is “packed with antioxidant-rich vitamin E, soothing shea butter and jojoba oil (-) eos keeps lips moist, soft and sensationally smooth.”  That’s nice and all, but let’s go over it, piece by piece.

A Staycation Staple:

The packaging is truly innovative.   Rubbery and shaped like a future victim of omelet demise, you can be sure you’ll be able to dig it out of your purse by feel alone.

It does moisturize.

It makes a cute desk accessory, if you’re into that.

A lippy punch – there is more balm here than in the average Chap Stick container.

A Staycation “SO NO WAY:”

It may not be enough for those of us with an actual medical lip chap problem.

I worry what will happen when the balm is down to 50% – I won’t be able to simply slide it on my lips using the applicator, and I don’t enjoy sticking my fingers into goop just to smear it on my smile.

This product claims to be, “95% organic, 100% natural.”  At first read, that sentence looks great.  But when you consider how standards for what is “natural” and “organic” vary and how those percentages could possibly play out under actual scientific equipment, it’s hard to put blind faith into advertising claims.

Thoughts

On the surface this balm seems great.  Though I’ve had to apply it hourly (which is par), the “summer fruit” scent is refreshing (like a tropical gum), and I think I’ve noticed it sinking into my lips fairly well.

However, I can already tell that it’s strictly a “day balm;” were I to apply this at night, I’d still wake up a victim of my “condition” in the morning.  Day wear is fine, but I can still feel that my lips are bound to relapse if I’m a moment late in moisturizing.  No one wants to be a slave to the stick; myself included.  The relief is nice, but the knowledge that the chappy wolves are hungry, gnawing and merely at bay is not comforting.

For people like me burdened with a thirst no average balm can slake, it’s a mediocre product.  Still, as I don’t see ads addressing our condition along side of Viagra and Valtrex spots, I’m guessing we’re in the minority.  For the average seasonal lip discomfort, I do think this works.  I can at least try to stand behind a product that attempts to go green, and does a decent job on this exceptionally tough customer.

I think for the most of ya’s, you’ll like it.  Recommended.

Zorb-nuthin’

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Unless you’ve been living in a sensory deprivation chamber, you’ve probably heard of the Sham-Wow.  You know, those super towels that apparently soak up gallons of liquid, save you from ever having to purchase rolls of Bounty again, and, judging from the cool enthusiasm of Sham-Wow pitchman Vince, can pretty much save the world and cure leprosy and dishpan hands.  Don’t get too excited.  I’m not reviewing the Sham-Wow, exactly.  Technically.

I usually try to avoid purchasing anything “as seen on TV.”  I had a bad experience with a Rainbow Brite record album back in 1986 and then again with some Time Life books as a young teenager in the early 90′s.  These events pretty much cemented my family’s deeply held belief that things ordered off television are instruments of the devil.  The deviiiiiiil.

Of course, there was no contingency for the physical “As Seen on TV” aisle in Target.  Oh yes.  All those BumpIts, Slap Chops, and Strap Perfects that were easily resisted on the small screen are suddenly so much more accessible in person.  And of course, there are the Zorbeez.

Zorbeez towels are essentially twin to Vince’s Sham-Wows, except they’re hawked under a different name by the late, exuberant Billy Mays.  Clad in his iconic blue shirt with a vocal volume cranked to 11, Mays said it like he meant it.  It’s hard not to put at least a little faith in someone who extolled the virtues of a product so, well, loudly.

So yes, I paid Target ten big ones for my pack of Zorbeez.  And I was really, really keen to put them to the test.

Photo Credit: Gwen Feldman

Photo Credit: Gwen Feldman

I ripped open the Zorbeez pack as soon as I arrived home.  I filled a coffee mug with tap water, and upended it over my kitchen floor, as you’ll see in the photo to the right.  I added the fish net to create a more cohesive, aquatic theme.  And because well, I was sort of bored and it was there.  (For some reason, the fish net is Willow’s favorite toy; it’s not unusual to see her stalking around my flat with it (quite elegantly) clenched in her teeth, and we tend to find it everywhere.)

I didn’t include the next photo, which was simply the first view of the large Zorbeez towel placed over the puddle of water and fish net.  It wasn’t that exciting.  The real test was about to begin.

Photo Credit: Gwen Feldman

Photo Credit: Gwen Feldman

Pressing the Zorbeez into the puddle of water, I half expected to hear a giant sucking sound as the towel defied physics and hoovered up the mess in a flash (and perhaps a few squares of my tacky kitchen linoleum for good measure).  Instead, the towel just got really, really wet.  And to my dismay, the floor stayed that way, too.  I poked at the Zorbeez.  I swished it around some more in the minor lake I had created.  The water simply spread further across the floor.  In the photo to the left, you can see that the towel is a sodden mess.  It’s difficult to make out the water on the floor because well, I took the snapshot with my Blackberry and it’s not exactly National Geographic approved gear.

Unwilling to accept defeat, I referred to the instructions, which I hadn’t read before, because who reads directions to use a towel?  Oddly, there was something I overlooked; apparently Zorbeez only perform to their full potential of they are dampened first.  Yes, I see the inherent flaw in logic there too, but I was dumb enough to purchase the Zorbeez in the beginning of this wet disaster.

I repeated the experiment but misted the next towel with a spray bottle before plunging it into the water.  The results were equally abysmal.  In the end, the only towel up to the task of drying my floor was my oversized bath towel that I bought freshman year in college.

Upon closer scrutiny, I noticed something interesting about Zorbeez shammies.  They seem to be made of really cheap felt.  Remember when you were a kid in preschool, learning about weather, mittens, and brushing your teeth?  Chances are that your teachers used felt boards to illustrate these concepts with pre-cut, felt objects placed on the boards.  These towels were made of the same stuff, though I honestly think they’re not even story time worthy.  Hold them up to the light, and you can sort of see through them.

While felt is a great tool to teach the uninitiated, I can’t see it used to suck a liter of cola out of berber carpet.

I gave Zorbeez one last chance tonight.  We’ve been a little lazy here at the Apply Yourself Product Lab, and the resulting Giza-sized pyramid of dirty dishes has been nothing short of pants-wetting-terrifying.  He washed.  I dried.  I attempted to use my Zorbeez shammy towels.

Again, I tried both a regular, dry Zorbee (is that the singular form?) and another that was pre-misted with water.  I saw no difference in performance between towels.  At first, I thought that maybe the dry Zorbee was actually absorbing water from my ceramic bowls, but it turned out that I was just holding the dinnerware too closely to myself and it was rubbing against my sweatshirt.  Yes, my hoodie was more effective on my dishes than the Zorbeez.  There was no difference on plastic, Pyrex glass, or metal.  The Zorbeez failure was officially epic.

I haven’t quite figured out if there is an alternative use for my Zorbeez.  Hang them from the ceiling in lieu of Tibetan prayer flags?  Too ghetto.  Cut into smaller squares for coasters?  Wouldn’t go with my decor.  Sew into clothing for Willow?  I’m pretty sure that’s animal cruelty.

I have a feeling my Zorbeez will be collecting dust next to my copy of The Fountainhead and the Fairy Tarot Cards I bought ten years ago.

Would I ever recommend Zorbeez?  Only if I really, really didn’t like someone.

Meet the Blog’s Mascot

Monday, November 9th, 2009

While there are multiple animals residing in the Apply Yourself Product Lab, only one can be mascot.  Meet Willow (and in case you’re wondering, yes I am a giant nerd and named my cat after Buffy the Vampire Slayer). She’s

She's not afraid to tell me that I've dipped into dork territory.  Photo Credit: Gwen Feldman

She's not afraid to tell me that I've dipped into dork territory. Photo Credit: Gwen Feldman

one odd feline.

I adopted her a couple years ago.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  Really.

When I first wandered into the cat room at the MSPCA (the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) I wasn’t sure what kind of companion I desired.  Most cats (rightly so) were terrified of humans.  I approached a volunteer and asked her to introduce me to something cuddly.

“Okay,” she whispered.  “This is Farrah.”  And with that, she pointed to a mottled tortoiseshell stray mutt of a cat, who had been locked away from the rest of her peers due to “attitude problems.”  I looked into Farrah’s (soon to be Willow’s) amber eyes and knew she was mine.

Entranced, I murmured to the volunteer, “she will go home with me.”

With time and kindness, Willow turned into a mercurial but sweetheart of a stray.  When she came home, she was a skinny, tiny mutt.  Now she’s a tower of fur.  A really smart tower of fur.

When she’s hungry, she grasps a can of wet cat food in her jaws and lays it at my feet.  She plays fetch with rubber bands, and if we haven’t done it recently enough, she’ll lay bands or jelly bracelets at our feet to prompt us.  Take a shower, and she’s your wingman on the closed toilet, making sure you won’t succumb to the streams of water.  She’ll drink out of the bathroom sink and then paw her bag to request dry food.  She sleeps on her back with her paws flailing in the air like abandoned maypoles and the cuteness is enough to kill.

The best part?  When we call, she runs to us.  When she’s walking toward me and I wiggle my fingers, she sprints, knowing I’ll lavish affection on her.  Because well, I’m a Willow sucker, always will be, and the cat knows it.

Say hi to Will!

P.S. If you’re looking for a great cause, consider donating to the MSPCA; they’re incredible animal advocates. Their urgent care ward is unparalleled when it comes to sick pets.  These guys put my parakeet on oxygen, and they still help pet owners who cannot afford proper emergency veterinary care.  These guys are amazing.

Rethinking

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Me, I’m a vegetarian.  It’s fairly recent, but it’s been a long time coming, and it’s something into which I evolved.  Over time I sank into it comfortably, and I dig it (I can’t believe it but I frigging love tofu).  I don’t dare presume to put my politics or beliefs on others, though.  It’s not my place to judge other people or their habits.  What’s valid for others is valid, right?

For my own beliefs though, I am passionate.  I love animals and prefer to hug them, rather than eat or wear them.  That’s me.

That’s why I fell head over heels in love with Texas artist Christy Robinson.

Credit: Christy Robinson.  Photo Credit: AlternativeOutfitters.com

Credit: Christy Robinson. Photo Credit: AlternativeOutfitters.com

Operating independently since 2006, her beautiful, handmade jewelry speaks to the tree-hugger in all of us (come on, you know it’s in you).  For those of us who count ourselves as vegans or vegetarians, there’s plenty of gear to announce our animal friendliness to the world. I swooned at her collection.

Not a veggie but still dig animal rights?  Despair not.  You can find cute, cat or dog shaped necklaces encouraging animal adoption and spaying/neutering pets.  Some adornments endorse saving whales and leaving foxes to enjoy their own fur.  Other fox prettiments simply declare the cleverness of the wearer.

Want to keep personal politics out of it?  That’s cool, too.  Robinson has plenty of pretty, neutral baubles engineered to draw attention to your neck, fingers, or wrists.

And if nothing stands out (though that’s hard to imagine), you can always commission Robinson to create something that’s uniquely you.  This designer crafted a cool, understated Dallas city skyline to adorn a loyal Texan customer’s neck (the Boston Yank in me wonders if she’d take me up on a Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge neck piece – I’ll have to wait until I’ve left the ranks of the laid off to see).  From what I’ve seen, there’s no limit.

For more of Robinson’s pieces d’art, check her out here.

Oh, I have to give props to Alternative Outfitters, where I found Christy Robinson’s work.  They have kickass gear (no really, I adore their stuff) and all of it (yes all!) is animal friendly.  I especially encourage you to check out their wallets (swoon).

Potential Cash Saver – Screw the Gym

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

I remember how easy it was in college to stay in shape.  As a member of the varsity women’s fencing team, I got at least three hours of exercise four times a week, plus all day fencing meets on weekends.  It was a no brainer – I had fun and never had to worry about things like calories, carbs, or scales.  Ah, the folly of youth.

A year ago I signed on to a trial gym membership.  I dutifully went almost every day, loved it, and then forked over a substantial sum to become a member.  I can count on my fingers the number of times I went back.  Because just like everyone else, I too am dumb.

I can’t afford a gym membership now, and I’ve proven that I wouldn’t use it like I should, anyway.  Seeing that I don’t know a bench press from a french press, I wasn’t sure what to do.  Jog?  Eh, I live in the city.  Bike?  Can’t – my bike was stolen.  Lift weights?  Sure, if I knew what to do with them.

Well, I do have a Wii.

Yes, a Wii is not the cheapest device out there.  It’s an investment, in a sense.  I decided to put it to work.  For around $50.00, I bought the EA Sports Active Personal Trainer kit.  Along with the workout game for the Wii console, the kit was complete with leg strap for the Wii nunchuck and resistance band for muscle training.

photo credit: easportsactive.com

photo credit: easportsactive.com

I started off with the 30 Day Challenge (I’m in week 2 now) and I was very pleasantly surprised.  The program is structured by two days of working out and one rest, repeat ad nauseum.  Per average workout, expect to run in place, kick box, lunge, and resistance train.  You’re guided along the way by a chirpy virtual personal trainer who is encouraging but is also quick to correct your form (with some help from the sensors in the Wii controller, which you hold in your hand, and the nunchuck, which is strapped to your right leg).  My trainer may get on my nerves, but I couldn’t do the workout with out some guidance.

You can select your level of impact and difficulty, and there are customized sessions beyond the aforementioned 30 Day Challenge (haven’t tried those yet).  My plan is to start slowly; I’m beginning the 30 Day Challenge on easy, and when that’s done I’ll do it again on medium and then again on hard.  I’ll post updates as I go along.

So far, I think this program has a lot of promise.  While it’s too early to really see much in terms of results, my aching arms, legs and back are testament to the fact that something positive is going on.  Really, I’m in pain.  And I can really feel the workouts.  When I’m done with a 25 minute session I’m left sweatier than I ever was at the gym, and I’m definitely sleeping more soundly at night.  In short, I think I’m on to something.

Does this completely replace the gym?  It’s too early to tell.  I can say this, though – I’ve used my EA Active Thingie more than I went to the gym when I was a member.  There’s absolutely no excuse for me to eschew working out when I can do it in the middle of my living room with bed hair.  I can even put the Pixies on my stereo and have Apply Yourself‘s mascot Willow cheer me on with extreme disinterest.  The point is, I’m now active, when I was happy to watch Buffy reruns when I should have been on the treadmill.

Fifty bucks is roughly twenty percent of what I paid for a year of gym membership, and I got nothing out of it.  With this kit, I’m more aware of my body, how I move, and I’ve even been inspired to cut meat out of my diet (I discovered that I actually really love tofu).  I’m healthier, I think.

To me, EA Sports Active is better than a gym, because I can afford it.  The initial investment of the Wii is steep, I know, but it’s much easier on the wallet than forking over a ton of cash to join the ranks of gym rats.  This is really something you can do at home, on your own, and in the long run, it’s a very economical choice.  It’s innovative enough that I felt it deserved a place on this blog.  If you can stick with it, it very well could be the perfect DIY home based workout.

Boredom Buster: Learn to Knit

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

The art of knitting has had a massive resurgence over the past ten years, especially with the twenty and thirty something age brackets.  It’s a fun hobby that runs from cheap (think acrylic yarn, like Red Heart) to costly (you can find wonderful yarn out there with price tags that could very well make you choke), affording you the wiggle room to decide what fits in your budget.  Making your own clothing and accessories to your personal specs is very alluring, and it’s something you can do with friends and several cups of tea (alcohol, not so much – trust me).  Knitting circles are wildly popular, especially in cities and college towns.  It ain’t just for grandma anymore, my dears.

Winter is coming, and if you have some time to kill, knitting is a fantastic way to occupy your hands.  Go find your

Photo Credit: Gwen Feldman and Brandon Vogel

Photo Credit: Gwen Feldman and Brandon Vogel

favorite sweater in your closet.  With enough practice, you can create a garment just like it, or something even better.

To the right is my super simple skinny scarf.  It probably took me three evenings total to create, though your mileage may vary.  There are a few reasons why this is a great beginning project:

Difficulty

This knits up in a garter stitch, which is the easiest stitch to learn.  No doubt it is covered in any basic knitting lesson.  The look gets a little oomph from the unique texture of the yarn.  The material also covers up any beginner mistakes, which are bound to happen.  And at only nine stitches across, it knits up quickly and shows results fast.

Cost

The scarf was knitted with one skein of yarn.  I think I paid a little over $8.00 per skein.  The scarf is to my unique specifications (I like ‘em long and skinny to loop multiple times around my neck), it’s nice and warm, and it cost less than a trip to the movies.  A lot less if you factor in popcorn.

The Yarn Makes a Difference

This yarn is 100% silk – silk is a fantastic insulator.  Soft and super warm, many folks prefer it over the feel of wool.  Even better though, is that it’s empowering!

This yarn is purchased from women’s cooperatives in Nepal and Indonesia, and is made from recycled sari scraps.  These coops are selected for their policy of paying a living wage, thus fostering independence and fair compensation in the community.  Many of these companies reinvest a portion of the profit back into the cooperatives, purchasing spinning equipment and sponsoring educational programs.  Before purchasing recycled sari yarn, I recommend checking that the above is part of the potential merchant’s practices.  A good place to start is Mango Moon.  Their yarn is fun on the fingers and they also have free patterns available on their website for all skill levels.

Where do you start?  There’s no set place to begin knitting.  Some folks find that formal lessons work best, and there are classes to fit most budgets (try Google or Yelp to find something near you).  If classes aren’t feasible, don’t fret.  I taught myself how to knit with a $3.00, thirteen page booklet that hadn’t been updated since the Carter administration.  Any crafts store will have something like it – you can learn at your own pace, and on the cheap.

Our blog mascot Willow models the Super Skinny Scarf.  Photo credit: Willow and Gwen Feldman, Brandon Vogel

Our blog mascot Willow models the Super Skinny Scarf. Photo credit: Willow and Gwen Feldman, Brandon Vogel

The internet is full of incredible resources to help you along the way, as well.  I highly recommend Knitting Help, which offers free video tutorials to help you master that one stitch that’s driving you batty.  Knitty.com is also a tremendous source, with articles about technique and free reader-submitted patterns (some of these are jaw droppingly gorgeous).  Of course there’s no way that I can forget Stitch and Bitch, which helped revolutionize the way we see modern knitting.

As the weather cools, try challenging yourself.  Knitting, crochet, learning a new language, and a bazillion things we’ll discuss – these are all things you can do on your own, with your SO or roommate, which is well, a great way to spend a staycation.

An Introduction to Color, Sans Stick up the Butt (Don’t Worry, We’ll Get Technical Later)

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

You’ve been there before.  It’s time for a change, and you’re poised to paint your parlor with that perfect pair of pinks.  Or purples.  Or reds.  You find yourself in Home Depot, surrounded by paint samples, and well, what do you do?  You’d be amazed how overwhelming it can be.

photo credit: www.realsimple.com

photo credit: www.realsimple.com

When I started learning about design, color was a topic that surfaced frequently.  (Actually, my color education began in college painting classes, but that stuff is probably totally not useful here.)  Color is, to me, the apéritif of daily life – it gets our juices flowing, sets a mood, and can intoxicate better than a carefully hidden flask of Jameson.

And I think people take it way too seriously.  I mean it.

Research color on Google, and you’ll find a veritable tangled mess of information.  If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re looking for the straight and skinny.  You don’t need half the stuff.

There are some laws that remain somewhat true, and could influence your use of color around the house.  Red works great in kitchens, as it’s warm and supposedly stimulates the appetite (and passion – have some strawberries on hand!).  Conversely, blue represses hunger (besides blueberries, you don’t find a lot of blue foods in nature and spoiled foods are often blue, purple or black) and supposedly increases productivity.  According to some studies that I cannot verify, prospective employees who wear blue to interviews are viewed as potentially more loyal than the average interviewee.  Body builders have been shown to lift heavier weights in a blue room, as opposed to other colors.  Blue can be soothing, and is often recommended for both offices and bedrooms.

I’m cool with some of it (I do feel a correctly placed red can really get the juices flowing in all sorts of ways), but I really think a lot of this is crap.  You can’t place too much faith in a study if you don’t know how the study was constructed, who participated, the size of the participant pool, etc., etc., and etc.  I recommend trusting your gut feeling when you see a hue that might suit you.

Me?  I painted my bedroom a rich, bright, vibrant orange, which is a no-no in the field of design.  Orange inspires unrest and is considered too stimulating to occupy a bedroom wall.    My bedroom remains my cozy, wonderful, warm space, and I guarantee that any sleepless nights can be wholly blamed on my tastes for strong teas.  I feel better in orange. Oh, and I did paint an old bedroom blue, and I felt sluggish and bored when I should have been inspired.

You’ll find that certain colors speak to you, sing to you, and whisper sinful things to you.  Go with it.  It’s your home, right?  It’s not like you’re bound for a feature in Better Homes and Gardens, right?  Claim your territory and make your home uniquely YOU.  So if you think that your bedroom needs to rock out with an obnoxious yellow, go for it.  You want a purple kitchen?  Do it.  A blue dining room (gasp)?  Go a-freaking-head.

Yes, there are still a few things to keep in mind.

Bathrooms

If it were up to me, I’d paint my bathroom marine blue and red-violet.  But well…

Think about it this way.  You’re most likely to comb your hair and apply makeup in the bathroom.  Your bathroom is the place where you’re going to use the mirror the most.  Color works as a function of light, and you want the purest light you can get.  Do you really want to apply your lipstick in a blue tinted room, only to have daylight morph that neutral shade into coral?  No.  You don’t want to look like Tammy Faye.  Keep your bathroom white, Nemo.  And while you’re at it, stick with waterproof mascara.

Exteriors

The outside of your house is what you present to the world.  The judgemental, HOA-espousing world.  Keep color here neutral or dusty.  By dusty, I mean take that green and add some slate to achieve a calmer tone.  You don’t live outside your house, anyway.

Kids

Childhood is an amazing, awesome time.  Let your little one pick the color of his or her room and suck it up if you hate it.  You won’t be allowed in there, anyway.  Your kids will have great memories of creating his or her own space.

I also highly recommend using chalkboard paint on some part of your child’s room.  You can find it almost anywhere, and it’s pretty much a chalkboard you can slather on a wall.  Kids love to get creative, especially on a formerly forbidden surface, like walls.

And don’t quote me, but what I’ve seen suggests that a white board (as in dry erase markers) paint may well find its way to market in the next decade.

Tight Spaces

Smaller rooms, especially tiny living rooms require lighter paint colors to open them up.  A dark shade will make it feel like a cave.  A lighter green looks fabulous in these places, and if you let light in, you’ll be amazed at the difference.  But of course, I also advise following your gut, so if you feel better in a brown space, enjoy it.

Complementary Colors

You want your foyer one shade, and you think the hallway stemming off it would look great in a coordinating hue.  How do you choose?  This is the easiest part, I swear.

Most paint companies manufacture color cards that feature several colors of paint, all stemming from the same color (per card, I mean).  The difference you see involves changes in intensity and shade.  Find a color you like, and pick others from the same card – it will coordinate.  Choose a paint company and see what tools they offer to aid in selecting additional shades.  Most likely you’ll find something useful.

If you can’t find a color that speaks to you, bring in an object that you love.  Most paint companies can match the shade.  They have wonderful doodads for it.  Don’t be afraid to purchase cheap sample bottles to compare paints on a wall.

Remember the Golden Rule

So many people forget this one truth, and it’s usually what trips them up.  Learn this.  Never forget it, and you will never stress about color again:

You can change any color in a matter of hours.  Nothing is permanent.

You’d be surprised how many people, when confronting a mistake, think it’s the end of the world.  Nope.  That chartreuse shade of suck on the dining room wall can easily be corrected with some primer and a gallon of paint.  Let the Golden Rule offer you some flexibility and room to experiment.  It may take days and a ton of primer, but you’ll eventually stumble on the one color that makes you fall in love.

Most importantly, have fun!