Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vote now!

The great travel website TripAdvisor is giving away 1 million dollars! They have selected 5 great causes and are asking the public to vote for the recipient of the money. Follow this link to vote for your choice of either Conservation International, Doctors Without Borders, National Geographic Society, The Nature Conservancy, or Save the Children. As of this moment, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, my pick, is in the lead with 39% of the vote!! Visit TripAdvisor to make your voice heard and to learn more about each of these great causes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Would you like fries with that?

There is a massive billboard near my house advertising the no-scalpel vasectomy. This would not be that interesting, except that next to the photo of the doctor is this frightening statistic: Over 17,000 vasectomies performed! Yes, that's correct, that's seventeen thousand, for those of you driving quickly and doubting your reading skills. By the same guy. The picture shows a young-ish looking doctor, with very dark, thick shiny hair and equally dark eyebrows. Is this guy some kind of vasectomy machine or something? What exactly is a no-scalpel vasectomy and, more to the point, does it even work? I'm sure it's not too hard to do six million vasectomies if you don't do them correctly, right? I decided to look in to this bizarre phenomenon and got the scoop from his website. Apparently the guy isn't as young as his picture suggests, and he has been practicing locally for 25 years. That math is a bit more reasonable, but still. 17,025 vasectomies since 1983? That's 681 per year on average, although it probably increased over time as he became more successful. As it turns out, the procedure only takes...get ready...10-15 minutes (!!), so it's not that crazy to do 13 per week on average. In fact, now that I really look at the numbers, even if it takes 20 minutes, that's only about 4 hours of his time each week. Still, at over 17,000 procedures, it sure does give new meaning to the term "churn and burn". Eek!


Monday, October 20, 2008

And the winner is...

I know you've been waiting with bated breath to find out which of the road signs is a fake. So hold on to your hats, people...the impostor is indeed the one in the center. That is a photo from a trip we took to California two years ago. We were driving around in Sausalito, one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and I was imagining that I lived there. I was thinking about how I would be drinking my coffee each morning overlooking the water, wearing those Himalayan knit booties with the tassels on them, and writing in my journal. OK, I don't do any of that except drink coffee, but it felt right for some reason. There was the sign, and at first we thought it was real until Jon pulled over and he got out of the car for a closer look. Someone had added the hat and guitar to a regular sign using black electrical tape. It was so funny that Sara wanted a picture. If you look closely, I think you can even see the Himalayan booties...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Speed humps? I beg your pardon?!

When I moved to Florida from New England, I noticed that some of the road sign terminology differed from what I was used to. In New England, the signs read Speed Bumps. In Florida, Speed Humps. Three years later, this is still funny to me. Apparently this term is used in the UK as well, and this got me thinking about what other amusing signs we might find on our home exchange adventures in Europe. So let's see how good the rest of you are: which one of these signs is a fake?

Leave your answers in the comments!


Yesterday I got an email from Ståle, our Norwegian home exchanger, telling me that he and the family were going on a short vacation to Latvia. Huh? This stuck me as particularly strange, as Latvia isn't know for its tourism, at least not to Americans. I told him so, and it he promised to give me the full report when they return. In the meantime, I decided to check Latvia out and apparently I am not the only one who thinks vacationing in Latvia is strange, as there is a website called YouWon'tBelieveIt that extols its virtues. Maybe the website should be called You Wouldn't Have Believed It - it just seems a bit more positive. Apparently some of the cows in Latvia are blue (the color not the emotion) from drinking water from the Baltic sea, and all you have to do to become a werewolf is to get naked at exactly midnight and then run backwards through a tree root that's been formed into a loop. It sounds pretty good to me, and I definitely wouldn't have believed it.

image: TAVA

Old, old, old!

I was floored when I realized that Maureen McCormick, Marcia of The Brady Bunch, is 52 years old. 52 years old! Sorry, but I am not really able to wrap my brain around how old she is...or, more honestly, how old I am! Her tell-all memoir, Here's the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice, is out today and reveals her history of drug addiction, bulimia, and a series of bad relationships, including her attraction to Barry Williams (Greg Brady). He really got around - Williams also had a brief relationship with Florence Henderson, who played his mother on the show. Eek.

photo: ABC

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Momager = Change!

Surprising news that you can't miss!!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Going under the knife?

Earlier this week I had an appointment with the dermatologist for a routine skin cancer screening, and was surprised when the PA (Physician's Assistant, like a Nurse Practitioner with more schooling) came in and didn't introduce himself or anything, just started in on the exam. I happened to know he was a PA because I saw the practitioner profile on the website, and normally I don't mind seeing a PA so it wasn't a big deal to me. He found a few areas of suspicion, as he called them, and as we were discussing whether to biopsy them, he said that some dermatologists would take a less aggressive approach, but he prefers to do the biopsy. Doesn't this sort of imply that he is also a dermatologist? It was on my leg so I let him do it, sort of in the same theory that you don't want your doctor to start your IV because although they can do it, they don't ever do it and therefore don't do it well. Let the nurse or the phlebotomist do it. So I didn't really care that this guy did a small biopsy on my leg but when he told me that he needed to do two additional ones on my face (!!), I wasn't sure I still wanted to go along with the plan. He seemed put off by my questions about how much of a scar would be visible, and said there wouldn't be any real way to predict until he did the procedure, but it would be just a small scar. Just two small scars, actually...on my face! What do you think? Should I let him do the procedure, should I ask for an actual doctor at the same practice, or should I go elsewhere entirely?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Home exchange shopping...

I was thinking about that funny TV commercial with the woman with the extra steering wheel who forces the guy off the road (I know you all saw it because I posted it a few days ago) and it made me think about our British home exchangers. He was concerned about driving in the US, and hadn't taken his host car out for a spin. It's a convertible and a great car to mess around with but he was uneasy because we drive on the opposite side of the road. At least the convertible they have is an automatic transmission. I just realized that their car, the one we will be using, is a stick shift and normally that's not a problem for us but we will have to shift with the opposite hand! Hmmm, I'm not sure how much I am loving that idea. I totally get his uneasiness, and realized that all of our exchangers might be nervous driving around in a new place, even if not on a new side of the road or with a different body part. So, we ordered a portable GPS for our car that we will be leaving for our guests. No, Mom, they're not going to steal it!
cartoon: Bill Junk

Monday, October 6, 2008

Trust me, you'll be humming this all day long!

Watch the whole just gets better and better!

Cracking myself up...

Sadly, this will keep me occupied for much too long. Too funny!

Home exchange: I heart Geordies

On Saturday night we drove about 80 miles west of our house to meet our future home exchangers from northern England. They were on their first trip to the States, on a home exchange near enough to our place that I thought it would be interesting to get together for dinner. I have to admit that I was nervous about meeting people that I had only traded a few emails with, and it's uncharacteristic of me to invite them to dinner. I have no idea why I suggested it. So we drove up to to the home they are exchanging, which made it even weirder since it's not even their place but also sort of cool so we could see what the house looked like. This particular house is small, what realtors would call quaint, and its affluent area and charming guest cottage make it a desirable home for exchange. I knew that the swappers have young grandchildren, so I thought this would be like an evening with someone's grandparents, all proper and polite with the kids bribed with candy to keep them quiet. I thought I was going for tea with the Queen. I was totally wrong. These people were amazingly young in both their appearances and in their spirit, and after a few awkward minutes of introduction we settled in for an evening of laughs and great companionship. They enchanted us with stories of home exchanges across Europe and shared tips and advice for us as first timers. It seems the people from this particular region of northern England are called Geordies, known for their friendly nature and hospitality, and I can't think of better people to show us the ropes.
photo: BBC

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Netflix begins with N!

My current obsession is Showtime's hit series Californication, with the amazing Broadway alum Madeleine Martin as thirteen-year-old Becca. You don't have to be a David Duchovny fan...well, yes you do but that's another get hooked on this smart and funny show because Madeleine Martin is such a treat. Here's the great news: Netflix has now picked the first season of Californication and you can see for yourself! Go one step further and pick up the Netflix player by Roku for a hundred bucks and you can watch on your TV. I bought one when it was first released, and I love it. Netflix also picked up the movies currently available on the Starz channel, so those of you without premium cable channels will really get your money's worth with the Roku player. The Watch Instantly library is smaller than the massive Netflix DVD library so not everything is available instantly, but there is no shortage of great stuff: 30 Rock (Season 1), The L Word (Seasons 1 - 4), Weeds (Seasons 1 & 2), and The Pursuit of Happyness just to name a few. Have fun!

The accidental humorist

The other day, I was having a hell of a time thinking of something beginning with the letter N that Sam could bring to school for "Share Day." We were running late and trying to get out the door without forgetting anything, and I asked him what to bring that started with N. He thought about it for a minute, and then came up with the ultimate solution: Nothing.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Home exchange: call me herring and put me in the lake

I guess I am not a perfect home exchanger. I know, I was shocked too. It seems that I inadvertently screwed over the Norwegian family when I told them that we were probably going to exchange with someone else, even though I was trying to be considerate. I was thinking that they would be pleased to hear that we were still available, but instead they thought that I was sort of a jerk for making them an offer and then rescinding. That's not what happened, really it isn't, but I do see how they could see it that way. I knew it was serious when I no longer got replies from the woman I had been talking to, and instead it was the man who answered. Yikes! She is not even talking to me now! After my carefully crafted apologies (yes, there were two), they understood and didn't have any hard feelings, and in fact wanted to exchange with us after all. Can you believe it? Sara was so excited that we'd be going to Norge and I was filled with daydreams of the kids playing blissfully outside, making snowmen, drinking hot chocolate and eating reindeer jerky. I'm kidding. Sara doesn't even eat jerky. We were fortunate to find this kind family who accepted my apologies, especially when I was really the only jerky around. Kall meg sild og legg meg i lake (yep, you guessed it).
photo: GAN

N is for...uh, I don't know

Friday is "Share Day" at Sam's school and he is supposed to bring in an item that starts with the letter of the week. This week we're on letter N. Believe me, I have tried and tried to come up with something that he can show, or even tell, that begins with N and I am horrified to admit that I can't come up with a single appropriate thing. The kids already made noodle necklaces today (hey! those were my 2 ideas!) and tomorrow for snack time they're making nachos, so I am done. Nunchuck? Noose? I don't think so. Last week we kicked some preschool ass with Hess helicopter and now we're in trouble. Nookie? There's always the Norway guidebook, but that is super lame, and I doubt that the 4 year-olds really care what Arthur Frommer has to say. Nantucket? Kids love limericks, right? Sam can't spell, so he doesn't know what starts with N, and Jon will fall out of his chair laughing if I tell him I can't think of anything. Nightmare? You betcha! Please (!!) leave me your ideas in the comments...I am going to take a nap.


Home exchange: Germany Schmermany

I've been fortunate enough to find 2 families who want to exchange their homes with us, and when the German exchange fell apart I started to wonder. Was I crazy to look for a 3rd exchange? Would it be possible for us as first time exchangers to coordinate a 6 month exchange in 3 different countries, working backwards, with only a few months lead time? Luckily for my family, I am particularly drawn toward problems that seem almost impossible to solve. I went back to my old files on a family in Norway, our other target country. We had discussed an exchange, but they seemed to lose interest over time and they had received another offer, so I thought that it was all over. My daughter Sara had really wanted to stay in Scandinavia, and she kept telling me that she could understand Norwegian because of its similarity to Swedish. I speak Swedish, Mom, so I'll have an advantage in Norge. She pronounced it the Swedish way, Nor-ee-yuh. The problem was that I had already told this family that we were most likely going to exchange with the German family, so by now the Norwegians must have made other plans. Oops. Hey, they had been straightforward in letting me know that they had another offer, and I did the same for them. I didn't want to string them along unnecessarily, and I thought I was being considerate. Apparently I was the only one who thought so, and the Norwegian family was not too happy to hear from me again.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Little pink ribbons for you and me

October is breast cancer awareness month! Please be sure that you (and the women you love) are getting regular breast cancer screenings and talking to your doctor about what tests are right for you. Breast self-examination is important, and you can download and print BSE cards for free from Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.

More than 25 years ago, Nancy G. Brinker (left) founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure to honor her sister who was dying from the disease. The foundation became the world’s largest source of private fundraising for breast cancer research and invested nearly $1 billion by 2007. One billion dollars! Please help me support the mission started by Mrs. Brinker and donate today!

photo: Susan G. Komen for the Cure®

Tears of joy

I recently got back in touch with some friends of mine from a very long time ago, friends I haven't seen for 18 years. While the reasons to get back in touch were sad, I learned that the Associated Press had done a beautiful and moving story about one of these old friends. Seeing this short piece was exactly what I needed to help me heal, and I wanted to share this sweet story with you. Please click here to check it out (my friend is the one in green).

image: Meredith Haley Sonson

Home exchange poll: vote now!

What do you guys think???

Monday, September 29, 2008

Home exchange: hamburger falls into the fire

It is not easy to get a visa to stay in Europe for longer than 3 months, regardless of where you go. In order for us to get German visas, we would need to fill out a million papers in a certain color ink and get a letter from our bank stating we have enough money to sustain us without getting jobs. We would have to show that we had purchased plane tickets home (which struck me as funny for some reason). We needed to make an appointment to bring this big stack of papers, along with a letter from our exchange partners proving we had a place to stay, to the German consulate in person. The consulate is 6 hours away. So when I got the email from the German family that they needed an interview in Berlin to get a visa, I felt lucky. They, however, felt unwilling to go to such lengths, and wanted to reduce the exchange to under 90 days so they wouldn't need visas. No problem, let's make it 11 weeks. Cool, they said, stand by for the plan. Well, the plan, as it turned out, was a big fat cancellation. We have heard stories about people getting their laptops confiscated at US customs, we don't want to take that risk, and it is so complicated to get a visa, we are so sorry but we've decided to exchange somewhere in Europe. What?! Um, didn't we already have an agreement that we were just waiting to finalize with specific dates? Moreover, didn't they look into any of these details before spending 2 weeks of their life talking with us about a specific exchange??? Very uncool. I wasn't looking forward to breaking the bad news to the kids.

image: Chick-fil-A

Driving while fishing?

This morning I was thinking about a topic I heard on morning radio last week. The DJ was ranting about what people do while they drive, he had seen a woman reading a book as she drove down the interstate! On the way to school this morning, the kids and I looked for people multi-tasking behind the wheel, and we spotted a bunch of texters, no surprise there, and some cell phone chatters. I saw one woman applying eyeliner, but she was stopped at a red light so I had to add a few points for that. There was nobody reading a book, but we did find a winner: a woman eating cereal and milk from a spoon. While driving. I have enough trouble eating cereal and milk while sitting at my kitchen table (the whole dribble down the chin problem), so I was amazed to see someone actually doing it while driving. It reminded me of something my old friend said about why he loved his iPod so much. He never had to miss an episode of his favorite TV show, he could watch it while he drove to work. Aack! What do you do while driving?

photo: Kristian Stokholm

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I'm not going to get political, but this is important...

Would my sister Beth make a good Vice President??

Vote for your favorite now...


I am always giving my sister Beth (above, left) a hard time because I think she looks like Tina Fey (and she does), so despite her protests I'm unable to resist a little fun with the recent Tina Fey as Sarah Palin sketches. My sister doesn't think she looks like Fey at all (but she does), so I wonder what she will make of this! What do you think?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hi, bowling!

Sam is fascinated with bowling. Every day when we pick him up at school, we drive by the local bowling alley where he had his 4th birthday party. He usually says "Hi bowling" and waves, but lately he has started to ask me to take him bowling again. It's tough when he is so young, since he can't hold the ball very well and slips around in those funky shoes, but he loves it. I have to admit that my favorite part of bowling is the pitcher of beer, so I haven't taken him after school yet. It's fun as a family activity, but I am not sure I want to tackle it with just Sam. He is so cute that he might convince me...I'll keep you posted.

Home exchange: Hamburgers and hotdogs

I'm sure you saw it coming, but I didn't. The German house was immaculate and spacious, with a large sweeping lawn and beautiful back yard, and we were more eager than ever to solidify an exchange with the family. After exchanging a few emails reassuring them that the house looked great and would be perfect for us, the husband sent us an email asking specifics on the type of copier/scanner we have. I may need to scan some images while we are at your home, he said. Jon sent him the details on the computer equipment, and we continued to swap emails about local schools, attractions, and the like. It seemed to be a great fit, and they understood that we needed to end the exchange in late April to correspond with our exchange with the British couple. We discussed possible start dates so I said that we are ready to commit to an exchange with them, and I proposed the beginning of January (depending on flight prices). They replied that early January looked good on the surface, and they would look more into the logistics and get back to us right away. Things were looking up, so we started to look into buying plane tickets to Hamburg!

Mrs. Robinson pulls a fast one...

I know, I know, it's sort of mean...but way funny!

Home exchange pictures shock me!

image: James Martin for

After a few days, I received a note from the German family letting me know that they had posted some pictures of their house on their listing and that they had added some information about their town. They asked me some thoughtful questions about our area, and told us about some local sightseeing. They said that they were really hoping that we would find their house to be suitable, and that they would continue to post more information to their listing as soon as they could. They wanted me to let them know what we thought of their home, and hoped after seeing the pictures that we'd still want to exchange. Yikes! I braced myself for a hideous house or a catastrophe of some sort, and looked up their listing to see the updates. I was shocked by what I saw.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Congratulations to "The Waiter" on Book #2!

As you know, I am a huge fan from way back of the blog Waiter Rant and of its writer, Waiter (aka Steve Dublanica). Steve just announced that he will be writing a second book for Ecco, a division of HarperCollins, about all elements of the service industry that rely on gratuities to earn a living, and what happens when those gratuities are...uh... overlooked. It should be a good one! His first book, Waiter Rant: Thanks For The Tip, was on the NY Times Bestseller List for over a month. Congratulations, Waiter!

The best short story ever written!

I was super excited to find the full text of my favorite short story, "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, on this site. This piece was originally published in the New Yorker magazine in 1948. If you have a few minutes, grab a coffee or a glass of wine, and settle in for an amazing read. Let me know what you think once you're done. Enjoy!!

Home exchange tip: no pictures is not a good thing!

I had sent an email to a family in Germany who were listing their home for exchange on the original Home Exchange website, the one from the movie. I was getting progressively more dissatisfied with that website, since there is no way to know if the listings are current and I sent many, many emails during my search that were never returned. I like to think that the listings must have been old and the people never got my message, but I know enough to realize that many people don't have the courtesy to reply to an exchange offer if it doesn't interest them. Weird, since most people who exchange their homes are generally very nice and open people, but it's true. What I started doing was just assuming that if I didn't get a reply after a week, the listing was "dead." So, I was surprised to receive a late, but apologetic, email from a bilingual family in Germany who were looking for a long term exchange in the US. Like us, they work from home and have the flexibility to travel for a longer period of time than just for a vacation. They sent a long and enthusiastic email expressing great interest in a swap with us, told us a bit about their home and location, and promised to post photos of their home on They were new exchangers and had just joined the website and had not had time to update their listing. This should have been a big clue, but I was too eager to find an exchange and wasn't looking at all of the warning signs.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And the bathroom fun continues...

After Sam's successful bathtime survival game, I was having a hard time thinking of another adventure for his next bath. Sure, we had toys he could play with, but that's not exactly playing a survival game, is it? So I finally settled on moving the game to the shower, and we decided that he was in California where wild fires burn and need to be put out by special survivalists. I gave him some special "fire extinguishing foam" in a red can (yes, the can color is important because all kids know that red = fire!) and got his goggles to protect his eyes. After a quick wash, I gave him the can and closed the door with the only these instructions: don't spray your face, and put out those fires! And put them out he did.

Stop and smell the daisies!

Sometimes there is nothing more beautiful than artwork done by a child. Look at the amazing job that 4 year old Sam did on this milk jug turned vase. With foam brushes and some craft paint he was able to mix colors and go crazy. We filled the painted jug with some water and added my favorite flowers, gerber daisies, in cream and light peach. Amazing!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

But wait! Is smaller actually better?

OK, so you all have been thinking about how expensive gas has gotten, and how you should definitely get rid of that SUV (or, worse, Diesel Truck) and get something...well...cheaper, and more environmentally sound. I know you've been looking at specs, maybe you've even started thinking about a Prius, but then you've heard that the carbon footprint of a hybrid car is not the way to go, either. So what can you do?? Don't panic, just take a look at some of these options that Dark Roasted Blend put together. Now I just have to convince my husband that we should get that Mini convertible!

photo: BBC

These pants were made for travelling

Ok, I admit it, I am a bit of a Man vs. Wild freak. Yes, Sam and I use our survival skills to stay dry in the tub, and even Jon gets into it playing camera man in the pool. By now, you should know how I feel about those amazing pants that Bear Grylls wears - the ones with the reinforced knees. Part of my planning for the home exchange requires some clever packing, since we are only taking one bag each, and I was looking for clothes for the kids that are designed especially for travel. Perhaps it's because I am not...well...sporty...but I had no idea that this stuff existed. There are shirts that wick moisture away from you to keep you dry in hot weather, we all know that, but these have long sleeves! Apparently the long sleeves keep you cooler (!!) than wearing short sleeves. There are pants with zip-off legs to convert into shorts (good for little kids and extreme campers but not so great for anyone else) and shirts with bug repellant built into the fabric. There are even all kinds of clothes made of a special fabric that doesn't stink after you've been travelling all day - I am getting some of that stuff! But the most fun discovery guessed it...the pants with reinforced knees for kids. They even have reinforced butts! I am definitely going to get a pair for Sam.

Just like my sister!

Yesterday Sam was playing with one of my favorite DIY toys, the "dig station." I took a disposible aluminum baking pan from the grocery store, the small square kind that you might make brownies in, filled with dried lima beans that are about the size of a dime, and there you go - instant fun for his little cars and trucks. He fills up his little pick-up trucks and makes deliveries, and goes off road with his mini ATVs. Fun and not too messy, but don't try to get all creative as I originally did and buy dried peas to add color because they just end up on the floor and they are too tiny for little hands to pick up! So he is digging around, and then he starts his favorite new activity, writing his name on everything with a dry erase marker, and I hear him start...S...A...S...A...S.A....S.A...Essay...I am going to write an essay! Just like Sara! So cute!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Winter home exchange put on ice

With two home exchanges set up for the spring and summer, I still wanted to find something for the winter. I had been in contact with a family from Norway who were looking for a long term exchange, and while we had traded a few emails back and forth, they let me know that they had 2 offers that they were considering, ours and one from Australia. We loved the pictures of their house, and we wanted to be in Scandinavia so their location was perfect. Of course, I don't know a thing about Norway, but I discovered that their house is in western Norway which is where the famous fjords are located. It is absolutely gorgeous in western Norway and there is snow there for Sam! At first, they seemed quite interested and had lots of questions, but then their messages came less and less often, and it seemed as though they were favoring the other offer. We hoped that they would decide to exchange with us, and I tried not to get my hopes up, but I couldn't help it. When we hadn't heard from them in over a week, Jon said that we might as well entertain other offers if they come our way (even though I had turned someone down in Denmark already!). I resigned myself to the fact that Norway wasn't going to work out, and hoped to get an offer. That's when we heard from the family in Germany, and that turned out to be a disaster.

Bored with your run-of-the-mill RV?

photo: Kacey Shoemake

For those well-heeled adventurous types for whom money is no object and the flashier the better (you know who you are), check out the Unicat Unimog 5000. This bad boy will let you and your pals (or trophy wife/boyfriend/whatever) travel in style without having to compromise your wild itineraries because you just don't have the right set of wheels. I heard about this originally from my friends over at Apartment Therapy and then became fascinated with the whole idea. But don't just run out and buy one - be smart, shop around a little, and you can pick up a sweet deal on a used one for around $200K.


Emmy and Tony award-winning actress and cancer survivor Christina Applegate looked gorgeous and healthy at this year's Emmy awards last night. Applegate, 36, underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy as treatment for breast cancer that was found in one breast in July. Applegate told Good Morning America in August that she is now "100% cancer free!"
photo: AP/Chris Pizzello

Sunday, September 21, 2008

This is genius!

This is truly excellent work. I am in awe of the guy, Rob, who cut this masterpiece.

Hula? No, Hulu!

Want to watch an episode of your favorite TV show that you missed, but you're too cheap for TiVo? Are you the only one in your town without a subscription to Netflix? Good news, cheap peeps, you are in luck. Check out Hulu, a free and safe way to watch telly on line. What's the catch, you ask? There isn't one. Sure, the shows do have some commercials, but they're minimal - and you're probably still watching commercials anyway because you don't have TiVo or a DVR! So go sign up for a free Hulu account and start catching up with the rest of your friends.

Disney for free, you say?

You can be a kid again on your birthday! As part of it's "Celebration" promotion for 2009, Disney is offering free admission to any one of its parks on your birthday next year. You just go on line and register for the promotion, and then show a valid ID once you arrive on your birthday. This is a great opportunity for those of you living close to Disney World (Florida) or Disneyland(California), but note that you cannot apply this offer to an existing annual pass. It's more fun to grab an inexpensive flight on Southwest or JetBlue and spend a long weekend celebrating your special day!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Envelope, please!

Forbes Magazine just released their list of America's 10 Most Stressful Cities, and I am not a bit surprised to see that my former city, Providence, RI, was number 9! Providence boasts a very high unemployment rate (7.9%) and an expensive cost of living, and the best kept "secret" is that the government is run by the mob. For real. The former mayor of Providence, Vincent "Buddy" Cianci, spent almost 5 years in federal prison for his thumbs-down choices, as my son would say. During his 21 years in Providence politics, he was booted after 11 years as mayor due to an assault conviction. The story was that he had his driver and bodyguard restrain his wife's lover while Cianci burned him with a cigarette and urinated on him. Yep, nice guy. He was re-elected (!!) seven years later, only to be charged in a federal court with 27 counts of racketeering and corruption and all that good stuff. He was convicted of only 1 felony count ("corruption"), and spent almost 5 years doing his time. The Fox sitcom "Family Guy" even named their fictional junior high school after him: Buddy Cianci Jr. High. And there are 8 other cities more stressful than Providence?? Wow!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Speaking of retirement...

I recently read Early Bird, a very funny memoir written by Rodney Rothman, a guy who used to write for the David Letterman show. At the age of 28, he gets totally burned out by the stresses of being a TV writer and decides to take what he refers to as a "premature retirement." Rothman moves to Boca Raton, which in itself is sort of a caricature of the Florida retirement community, and becomes somewhat obsessed with learning how to play shuffleboard. It's funny and weird, and definitely worth a look.

Herb Alpert, Self Portrait, 1998. Acrylic on canvas.

So the other day I was driving home and I got stuck behind a van for an retirement center, one of those expensive places called Sunlake Mountains or Stratford Gardens or something hopeful like that. The van seemed to be picking up people, perhaps to go to a cooking class, or maybe even the theater, and as we were driving into my neighborhood it got me thinking. Is this like the ice cream truck for old people? When the van drives into the neighborhoods, does it blast some kind of elevator music instead of the carnival music ice cream trucks play? What kid of music would it play, exactly? Some Sinatra classics? Perhaps a little Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass? It would drive slowly down the street, but unlike the ice cream trucks for younger, more sprightly folk, the Stratford Gardens van would have to go around twice. By the time it made its second pass, the customer would have made it from the living room to the curb. And speaking of Herb Alpert, did you know that he donated $13 million dollars last year to charity, making him the second most philanthropic celebrity of 2008, second only to Oprah! That's right, you know him as the Grammy winning trumpet player, but he was also the founder of A & M Records. Guess we know what the "A" stands for now...because clearly the "M" stands for money!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"It's still's still there..."

This is THE funniest moment on television. Period. Listen carefully to the husband!

Home exchange redux: would you Adam and Eve it, mate?

On the heels of our good fortune in finding a Swedish exchange, I sent out 2 or 3 million new inquiries (well, maybe only 1 million) and decided to include countries that speak English. Initially we had limited our search to non-English-speaking countries, but after our disappointments with the Swiss and French exchangers, we wanted to keep all of our options open. Besides, we already had a Swedish exchange planned and would at least have some exposure to a foreign language. I was looking through the listings for the UK, and thought that London might be interesting, or even Ireland, as my father's family was originally from Ireland. I looked at a few listings from Ballymena, the town where his family came from, and while it seemed very beautiful, it seemed a bit too...well...boring. I like places where I can explore around and see new things all the time, not just new green hills. So ixnay on Ballymena, and I decided to look in England. I kept unintentionally clicking on this one listing over and over again, and even though it looked a lot nicer than our house, I decided there might be a reason I kept coming upon it and so I inquired. Amazingly, I received an immediate response with great enthusiasm from a lovely retired couple, and they said that they have never been to the States and would love to exchange with us! Their grandchildren visit them often and they have a Spiderman bedroom that Sam would like, and a guest bedroom that Sara could use. I liked them immediately, and we have made arrangements for a 4 week exchange to end a week before we are due in Sweden. Their house overlooks the deep blue water of northern England and they have a huge lawn that leads down to the cliff side. Their pictures remind me of books that I read in the 8th grade, sort of a "Heathcliff goes to Manderlay" or something written by a famous sister. Interestingly, they will be visiting Florida in November for a short exchange to the Orlando area, so we have invited them to dinner to introduce ourselves and to swap keys. Maybe we'll even include my parents who live nearby, so they can befriend our guests and take them out for a sail. Little did we know that this would be the end of our smooth sailing for a while.

Sam versus wild!

So for something new and different during last night's bath, I decided to follow in Jon's footsteps and get Sam set up to play his favorite game, Man vs. Wild (remember the pants??). Normally Jon and Sam play this game in the pool, and Sam likes to switch back and forth between playing Bear Grylls and being the camera man. Jon wrestles with the raft and Sam laughs his infectious belly laugh, and they have a great time out there. So last night we tried something a little different, and I cut a rain poncho down to his size and he pretended that he was crossing a river and trying to keep dry. Ultimately the poncho tore a little, and then he switched into poncho destruction mode and basically ripped it into pieces. Game over? No way! We tied the smaller pieces to make a bag, and then Sam filled the bags with water to transport his fish that he caught for his dinner. I will need to make a fire, he told me, to cook my fish. It is amazing what kids can do when they use their imaginations. He wants to have a shower tonight instead of a bath, and I am going to have to come up with something pretty good after last night's adventures. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Is this your cup of ambition??

photo: Dez Pain

Last night as we were driving home from visiting some great friends, Jon and I had to stop at the toll booths to pay with cash since we left our pre-paid transponder in our other car. We're not used to navigating toward the cash lanes, and had to pay more attention than usual to the toll booth system. Oddly, all of the lanes in the middle were closed, and the only open cash lanes were on the far ends (not cool!). Do you think that at the beginning of their shift, the toll booth guys get together and goof around, looking for a way to break the monotony? Hey Bob, know what'd be funny? Let's just open up the end lanes tonight. You take 9 and I'll take 1. We'll watch all the cars scramble to get over. It'll be hilarious! Is there such a thing as toll booth humor? Maybe all jobs have their own camaraderie and humor that's only appreciated by others on the job. I know it happens all the time in the technology business, more than you'd like to think. Do you have "inside jokes" like this to pass the time where you work?

No more bad blood...

Larry, my father-in-law, has just been admitted into the hospital halfway across the country, and his doctors are not sure what is causing his illness. Right now they are giving him some tests and trying to determine what keeps causing his blood to be so uncooperative. When you read this, please send him some good thoughts, and join me in this song of encouragement: Larry, Larry, Bo Barry, Banana Fanna Fo Farry, Fee Fi Mo Marry...Larry!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

This is just so unsettling...

Check out this new disaster from one of my favorite websites, Cake Wrecks. It takes a special kind of person to create something like this, but who in their right mind would give it as a gift??!!

Who needs Craigslist anymore?!

As the summer fades toward autumn, advertisers on television and in print have started to change strategies and we're starting to see an increase in the number of ads for dating websites such as and eHarmony. Is this a coincidence? Absolutely not - 'tis the season to start looking for romance, and advertisers are not letting anyone off the hook. So I decided to do a little peeking, and checked out the king and queen of online dating. is the largest site with over 20 million members, according to their website, and caters to straight and gay dating. eHarmony is a Christian dating site, and thus it pairs straight couples who tend to share the same religious values. That would make it the queen and king, I guess. Both sites offer a similar guarantee that you will become partnered or you can renew again for free (I'd prefer my money back, but whatever, I'm married). There are many other sites that cater to specific types of dating: a personal favorite is Jew Glue ("where Jewish people schtick together"). I kid you not - click on it. But I have to say that I am completely freaked out by Ashley Madison, with over 2 million members (!!) and the slogan Life is short. Have an affair. I don't even know what to say to that,, thanks.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Aww, shucks...

I just wanted to take a minute to say thank you to my readers who have been with me this first week during my blog launch. I have gotten a lot of great responses and I really love your feedback, as long as it's positive. I'm kidding. Please keep commenting and thanks for reading!

Home exchange found!

my niece Allie

After the disappointments with the Swiss family and then the man in Paris, I have to admit that I was getting discouraged about finding a suitable exchange. There didn't seem to be any way that we would be spending the 2008-2009 school year abroad, so we settled on finding whatever we could find, and not worrying about trying to coordinate with the school year. The school doesn't like it, but I don't worry about taking my kids out as long as they are getting equivalent experience and don't fall behind. One year the kids and I went to California with my husband Jon, who was sent for a few weeks of training for his job. All of his expenses, plus a rental car and hotel room were paid for, so we just paid for the extra plane tickets and had a great vacation. I had to help Sara catch up with her homework, but we had plenty of time and she returned to school ahead of her classmates. So when we realized that we might have to take whatever we could get for an exchange, we stopped being so particular about the dates and started having better luck. One Swedish family offered us a month at their place in the summer, but that seemed so short, and so far in the future! Many families wanted to exchange with us over the Christmas and New Year European vacation (they get 4 weeks in practically every European country in December/January!!), and some people even offered us 2 weeks in October (um, no thanks). We finally found a Swedish family with a nice, comfortable house in a suburb of Gothenburg and they offered us either 4 weeks in December-January, or 10 weeks in the summer. Wow, 10 weeks was the best offer we had gotten, and although 10 weeks doesn't sound very long, 2 and a half months sounds pretty great. We decided to accept the exchange with the Swedish family, and they are very nice and the husband speaks perfect English. I like him very much, and we are even going to care for their 2 dogs. He suggested trying to find another exchange that could be consecutive (remind you of anyone?) and so I got started on finding a winter/spring exchange as well. We will be in Gothenburg from May 30 to August 1! The Swedish guy and I have been emailing back and forth to go over details, and I am relieved and encouraged by this good omen: their young son has the exact same birthday as my niece: November 5, 2007! Pretty cool.

Red hot publicity stunt?

So by now I'm sure you've all heard about David "X-Files" Duchovny entering rehab for his alleged sex addiction. Rumor has it that he messed around on his wife, actress Tea Leoni, for the last time and she gave him the ole Hollywood ultimatum: check in our get out. Old interviews reveal that sex addict is not a new moniker for him. An April, 1997 article from Playgirl (no, not my particular copy, you pervs!) reveals Duchovny's sardonic wit when he responds to a question about what he is currently reading with "I'm just finishing up two books called Out of Carolina and The Selfish Gene, which is this book by Richard Dawkins dating back 25 years. It's about Darwinian biology. Of course, my sex addict's 'How To' handbook is also lying around, because I'm not a very good one." Hmmm. So do we think it's a coincidence that Duchovny's character Hank Moody on Showtime's new series Californication is a bit of a californicator, or is this a publicity stunt gearing up for the September 28 launch of season 2? See for yourself! Subscribers of Cox digital cable can see the the entire season 1 for free from September 14 - 24. Verizon FIOS digital subscribers can check it out on HD on demand.