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Traveling Music

Today, I got up early without hitting snooze once. Why? Because I’m getting ready to board a bird headed south for the holidays!

I don’t think I’ve ever spent Christmas in 80 degree weather, so I’m totally psyched, but since my idea of Santa isn’t a fat old dude in Bermuda shorts, I may need a little musical inspiration as the mercury rises.

As such, I give you my favorite Christmas songs, guaranteed to put the spirit in your holiday:

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – U2
No other version will do. Sing it to me, Bono. I’ll come home to you any day – and twice on Christmas!

Mele Kalikimaka – Jimmy Buffet
If it’s good enough for Clark W. Griswold, it’s good enough for me.

Christmas Eve/Sarajevo – Trans-Siberian Orchestra
I don’t know why they call it this instead of Carol of the Bells. But I like it anyway. Nice and loud.

Baby It’s Cold Outside – Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer
It’s cold outside is as good an excuse as any other to fool around. Maybe just a half a drink more…

All I Want for Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey
You are dead inside if you don’t like this song. It’s that simple.

Honorable mention goes to Dominick the Donkey, the Italian Christmas donkey. Apparently the singer, Lou Monte, began his illustrious career serenading the ladies with Pepino the Italian Mouse. Sensing a trend? Chingedy-ching (hee-haw, hee-haw).

Buon Natale -- Merry Christmas!


Over the Hills

Tonight was the season finale of The Hills on MTV. Now, I don’t watch The Hills (yes I do), but if I did (and I do), I would tell you that I don’t know why I tune in season after hideously painful season (that one’s actually true, I really have no clue).

There’s a part of me that absolutely hates to be left out of any pop culture phenomenon, and let’s face it, for better or worse, The Hills is one -- as was its predecessor, Laguna Beach. And even if you don’t watch (like me), you can’t help but stumble across the dozen or so semi-celebrities that the shows have spawned over the years (the most useless by FAR being Justin Bobby -- trust me).

So whether you’re a casual observer or true student of The Hills, you’ve probably heard that Heidi & Spencer -- barfingly known as Speidi -- have recently tied the knot. Or have they?

Here’s my list of 5 things that are more real than their marriage:
1. Velveeta
2. Unicorns
3. Blue carnations
4. Pleather
5. Bernie Madoff’s $50 B ponzi scheme

One thing’s for certain -- The Hills are alive with the sound of fakeness. Now here’s a truth: I’d REALLY like to make a clean break from this show. I think I get dumber each time I watch. Yet, if left to my own devices, I fear I’ll tune in AGAIN when it comes back for season 5 in the spring. And I ask you, if I watched Newport Harbor (which I did -- don't judge), is there ANY doubt I’ll get sucked into the spin-off vortex that is The City, and – God help me – Bromance?

This is serious. I’m 35.

My last remaining brain cells are screaming for help. Is there a support group I can join? A 12-step recovery program? Should I go all biblical and just poke my eyes out? Please stage an intervention below.


No Scents

I have perfume on the brain.

This past week at work, we were asked to test a bunch of perfumes for a story. Of course, I missed the actual meeting where the selections were made, so I got stuck with a stinker. But it started me thinking: I really can NEVER find a fragrance I can live with, let alone, love.

Generally, I try something in the store, and I think it’s good. Then I get it home, and it mixes with me and I hate it. Or it gives me a headache. Or I hate it AND it gives me a headache.

I wasn’t always so fragrantly-challenged. Years ago I went through bottles of Eternity and Banana Republic’s Classic like they were water. Which, I guess they essentially are. But you know what I mean.

I dream of the day I can find a signature scent. Something I can smell and say, “That’s me!” To this end, I have DKNY's Be Delicious and Michael Kors, two perfectly good perfumes purchased earlier this year, that are now collecting dust on a shelf in my closet. Apparently, they were not up to the task -- once they got to know me.

I really don’t know (or care) what a top note is, and I can’t tell a tuberose from a tomato, so my quest is less about the ingredients (though musk = skunk), and more about finding something clean and fresh-smelling. Well, I thought I liked clean until I smelled one perfume actually called Clean and hated it (I should be more specific in the future, I want to smell clean, not like Mr. Clean).

Today, I spent a leisurely afternoon Christmas shopping on 5th Ave when I came upon Sephora. I was drawn like a moth to a flame. I’m really not a huge makeup person -- a little blush, mascara and lip gloss and I’m good to go -- but I AM a girl, and this is like, Makeup Mecca. So, I went in. I’m only human.

Determined to play Beat the Nose, I made a bee-line to the Smell Wall (not to be confused with the smelly wall, which was just around the corner on 49th). I was prepared to power through every single scent my colleagues liked, and come out with a winner. I grabbed a handful of white paper test strips, then sprayed and spritzed my way down the aisle. And honestly, after the first three, I’m pretty sure I lost my ability to smell entirely. It was a full-fledged olfactory shut down. A proboscis paralysis. But at that point, I had two sales girls circling me like crows, and I looked like a crazy lady with all the scent strips poking out of my hands so I HAD to plow ahead. Until one critical point, when I accidentally sprayed some rogue scent in my mouth, because the nozzle was facing the wrong way.

I can now officially confirm that perfume tastes far worse than it smells.

Anyway, maybe it was the blinding store lights, or maybe it was the brain damage I most certainly have sustained after sucking down a serving of perfume soup, but I wound up buying two bottles: Marc Jacobs’ Daisy, in part because a card next to the display told me it was their #2 best-seller (and also because I really liked the bottle), and Donna Karan’s Cashmere Mist, mainly because I didn’t want to put all my eggs in Daisy’s basket (and this one wasn’t that expensive).

I can just picture you on the edge of your seat, waiting to see which one doesn’t make me barf. You’ll have to stay tuned...

In the meantime, if all else fails, I heard Burger King came out with a fragrance that smells just like a flame-broiled Whopper. This could be effective in luring stray dogs, and drunk/stoned guys home. Once they invent one called Cheesesteak, I’m totally in.

So, do you have a signature fragrance? (And if you do, mind if I steal it??)


Picture This

I’m sure you NEVER have downtime at work. Ever. Especially as the Suits take off to sun themselves in St. Barts and leave the little people (elves?) behind to wrap up the fun-filled year that was 2008.

But on the rare occasion that you do, you really need to play around with these sites...

Call me a narcissist, but I love putting my face on things. Enter Sephora’s Mistletoe Makeover. It should be called Hoochie Holiday. Upload your photo into 4 (kinda freaky) looks -- Santa’s Little Temptress, Merry Berry, Smokey Sugar Plum, and O Tannen Babe -- then let the merriment begin. If you like your makeup good and cake-y, you can even buy the look! And then wear it. In the dark.

Not nearly as animated, but almost more fun is the Pho-ho-hoto Booth from Union Studio. I don’t even know what to make of this. It’s like Glamour Shots for the criminally insane. Take a trip back to 1980 and get your stockings stuffed with bedazzled sweaters and permed mullets. I liked this one because if you knew me in the 8th grade, you'd know I occasionally rocked the side ponytail. And if you’ve yet to get your holiday cards out, this may be your best bet. Your friends will think you are cheap and twisted as a candy cane, but funny.

Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without OfficeMax’s famous Elf Yourself that caused a flurry last year. It's back and better than ever. Faster than you can say “Midgets Scare Me,” your inner elf takes center-stage in a Disco, Charleston, Classic, or Country music video and dances better than you do. Honestly, seeing my giant head bounce around really never gets old.

I could do this ALL day (but I won’t, Pam, I promise!).

Anybody have other sites I should be checking out during totally non-working hours??


25 Reasons It's Swell to Be Single for the Holidays

Ah, the holidays! For many singletons, it’s that special time of year when your geeky co-workers start to look pretty good, and your exes somehow find themselves on the wrong end of a late-night phone call (after three too many Santa-tinis). But that’s not me. Really!

Truth is, I’d rather be alone than be with someone I’m not interested in. And until I’m a tragic spinster with fourteen cats, I’ll continue thinking that way.

Besides, flying solo definitely has its perks -- especially at the holidays. Here’s 25 reasons that might have YOU wishing you were single too:

1. You don’t have to argue in the cab on the way home about him hitting on an elf
2. Nobody will snore in your ear while you’re trying to have a silent night
3. No sense getting your candy canes in a twist over who’s family to spend the holidays with
4. No need to smile and pretend to like the present his mom gave you
5. You don’t have to go to his holiday party and make small talk with his boss, Senor Halitosis
6. Don’t believe the hype, flannel pajamas and cotton undies are all the rage
7. You don’t have to shave (assuming you enjoy being called Chewbacca Claus)
8. Nobody drinks the last of the egg nog and puts the empty container back in the fridge
9. Your DVR can be full of awful Lifetime holiday movies and no one will erase them
10. No one will yell at you for taking your laptop on Christmas vacation
11. Snow falls from the sky, not from his scalp (‘tis the season for the flakes that don’t melt)
12. You don’t have to dress up in matching reindeer sweaters for your annual holiday card
13. You can eat an entire tray of Christmas cookies and no one will judge
14. You can poke all the assorted chocolates and put the ones you don’t like back in the box
15. You can sing Christmas songs off-key and nobody will throw M&Ms at your head
16. You can be naughty and no one will care but Santa
17. No unnecessary “ornaments,” like stinky socks and dirty boxers, hanging around the house
18. The toilet seat is always where you want it (this is a gift that keeps on giving all year long)
19. No scruff to make your face as red as Rudolph’s nose
20. Snuggling is overrated, having all the blankets to yourself on a cold winter’s night is priceless
21. Two empty stockings = twice the presents
22. You can take the money you would have spent on his gifts and spend it on booze
23. No painful trips through the nutcracker, aka when are you two FINALLY getting married?
24. No fear of broadcasting on Facebook that you’ve moved to Splitsville, Population: You
25. Think of the money you’ll save on mistletoe!

Season’s greetings!

(See anything I missed? List it below!)


The Tipping Point

Tonight when I got home from work, all soggy from the rain, I noticed someone slipped a holiday card under my door. Was it a secret admirer? No. A friendly neighbor? Nah. It was from my building. On the surface, a nice gesture, but when I opened it and saw that it listed a cast of thousands (ok, 15), I quickly realized this was a handy checklist for tipping.

Well, fa la la la la.

I guess a little holiday green can spread cheer for a year. But figuring out how much to give is harder than figuring out what’s in your fruitcake.

Even though I haven’t lived in an apartment building for a while, I’ve always parked in garages here in the city, which means I’ve always struggled with what to offer at the holidays. Each year, I briefly entertained the thought of driving in one crisp December morning with a car full of home-baked goodies, immediately followed by visions of sugarplums being ground into my carpet.

Cash, it turns out, tastes better than cookies.

I really wish someone would just come up with universal tipping rules, like we have at restaurants! There, I know the minimum is 15%, and I usually give 20%. I could say it’s because I know the waitstaff works hard (and they do), and they’re underpaid (and they are), but really it’s because it’s FAR easier for me to move the decimal point one place and double it than it is to calculate any other percentage in my head.

Once you step outside the restaurant world, I feel like tipping is the Wild West. So that brings me back to that tipping checklist… er, I mean, Very Thoughtful Holiday Card. There really are 15 guys listed, and I know they ALL make my life easier in some way. But I don’t want to over-give because I can’t afford to dole out the ducats to everybody with a hand. And I don’t want to under-give either -- I’m no Scrooge!

I do tip as I go throughout the year -- $5 here, $10 there -- but I feel this need (guilt?) to do something extra for the holidays, even in a recession. Especially for the doormen. In my experience, doormen are like elephants, they never forget. And I sort of prefer that mine (all 4 of them) actually open the door for me instead of slamming it in my face. The front desk guys are pretty good too. They’ve yet to let any axe murderers upstairs, and I’d really like to keep it that way.

So WWSD (What Would Santa Do)?

I’ll take your tips on tipping below…


5 Reasons Gossip Girl May Be the Greatest Show of All Time

When it comes to TV, it's no secret that I have the tastes of a 14 year old girl. Sue me.

So, it should come as no surprise that my DVR is well-acquainted with the CW. I never miss Privileged, the new 90210, or the network’s crown jewel, Gossip Girl.

Last night’s episode -- nay, masterpiece -- was riveting. I don’t think I blinked for an hour. And I’m not the only one swooning over GG -- NY Magazine writes the most delicious weekly recaps and officially declared it the Best. Show. Ever. Truer words have never been spoken.

If you’re not watching this show, you really should be. All the cool kids are doing it. Here’s why:

1. Blair Waldorf & Chuck Bass. I could watch Queen Bee and the Basshole spar forever. Even after their teary, vulnerable moments last night, I hope they never get together. Their angry chemistry leaps off the screen, and they always have the smartest, juiciest, meanest lines on the show. Why ruin all that venom-y goodness with love?

2. Dorota. How can you not adore this pie-faced house frau? She’s at her best when she’s trailing behind Miss Blair, doing all her dirty work. Dorota’s devotion runs deep -- she even joined Facebook! This tireless woman needs her own spin-off. I’d love to get a glimpse at the inner workings of the Waldorf mansion.

3. Spotted: Serena van der Woodsen’s boobs. Lately, they’ve become their own character (characters?). She can’t even put them away at a funeral! I’m certain that any minute, one is going to fall out of her grossly age-inappropriate tops. Do you really want to miss that?

4. Dan “I carried the garment bag” Humphrey. He’s awkward and angsty. Just like a teenager should be. And he’s a chip off the old block. Who can resist when his dad, Rufus, gets all Lincoln Hawk in his rose-embroidered black shirt? He’s awkward and aged. Just like a washed up rocker should be. The van der Woodsen women have cast quite a spell on those melancholy Humphries!

5. Limos and labels and liquor – oh my! Who doesn’t want to look inside the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite? I know I do. Maybe I’ll learn a few tricks…

(While I’m making a list, let me also put out into the universe that Serena’s new distraction, Aaron Rose, must go. I am NOT a fan. He looks like he smells.)

So tune in. It’ll be our secret.



Back to the 'Brook

Now that I’m a city girl, one of the things I miss most is my car. That’s where Zipcar comes in. My first experience, renting a Mini Cooper named Melhman, was rocky (he had a flat tire, which I had to fix). Since then I’ve switched to a BMW named Bern and he’s been Old Reliable.

It’s rare that I have access to a car these days, so my agenda yesterday was jam-packed:

I picked up my Zipcar from a nearby Manhattan garage. This really is a brilliant concept, renting nice cars by the hour with gas included, but they need a street team to check up on the fleet. Bern was way overdue for a service, which he reminded me every time I turned the engine on. There was also some dried-up ketchup near the gear shift, which I tried to avoid touching at all costs.

I couldn’t go all the way to Pine Brook without doing a drive-by of the old homestead. After all, we lived there for 25 years! Making my way up a street I’ve driven a million times before, I could see it sitting on the hill. Several familiar markers were missing, like our mailbox and some front-yard landscaping, but the biggest difference was the number of trees that had been chopped down. It must have been a dozen. These were 50+ year old trees -- the neighbors couldn’t have liked that at all! I immediately decided that while it looked like our house, it didn’t look like our home anymore, and continued driving. Curiosity satisfied.

No trip to Pine Brook is complete without a visit to 7-Eleven. I miss that little place! So I went in and picked up a yummy buttered roll, a true NJ delicacy.

I suppose there are dentists in NYC. Some might even be good. But I seriously love my dentist, so I’ll happily travel back to the ‘Brook 2x per year for my cleanings. We watch Food Network together, he tells me stories, and he gives me lessons about teeth. Yesterday’s lesson was about brushing after lunch. I said it grosses me out to brush in a public bathroom. He said that’s ok, just drink a bottle of water after drinking any soda and I’d be fine until I got home. Thanks, doc! As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I unwrapped my buttered roll with one hand and chewed it up with my newly clean teeth. To be on the safe side, I also drank a bottle of water afterwards.

Immediately following my dentist appointment, I went, naturally, to a candy store. Bromilow's in West Caldwell makes the most amazing home-made chocolates, but the cream of the crop is their chocolate-covered potato chip. Salty-sweet heaven. I picked up two boxes to give as gifts. (I won’t say who the gifts are for, because they may be reading this!)

I know I said I’d never set foot in a grocery store again, but I'm a sucker for Kings apple pie, and since they're practically next door to the chocolate shop, I simply had to bring one home. They were even having a sale on bottled water -- $3.99 for a 28-pack. That same case (with 4 less) is $8.99 on my beloved Fresh Direct, plus a delivery fee. Another reason to love NJ -- cheap water.

The city that never sleeps has everything… except for Target. What a crime! So one of the highlights of my day involved visiting the bullseye in Fairfield. My back seemed to be holding up, so I went up and down every aisle in the store, stocking up on all sorts of holiday treats. Sing it with me: There's no place like Target at Christmas to save. I may need to watch less TV.

I don’t think news of the recession has made its way to Willowbrook Mall in Wayne. I circled the parking lot 7 times to find a space, which I finally did right up front (score 1 for me -- in your face, parking lot!). Once inside, the stores were so crowded, I had to beat my way through with a stick. I’m kidding...I used a golf club.

My tour ended in Totowa, where I attended a 5-year old’s Little Mermaid birthday party. It was so much fun to catch up with old friends (big shout out to Jen, Adam, and Mike!). And I’m comforted to know that hide & seek, dress-up and tea parties are still very much in vogue.

All in all, it was a great day. Who says you can’t go home again?


What a Waste of Lip Gloss

So I went on my first date with someone I “met” online.

The guy was from Match. He virtually winked at me, we exchanged several anonymous emails, then spoke on the phone and texted. On paper, he seemed pretty good...

He had a cleverly-written profile that used big words and didn't contain any grammatical errors. 43 year old hedge fund manager. Never married. No kids, no pets. Owned his apt on the UWS. Penn undergrad and Wharton MBA. Former college-level tennis player. A “people person” with a “feminine side ingrained by sisters.” Said he ate healthy, and ran or biked 15-30 miles per week. Had most of his hair. At a reported 5’10”, he was shorter than I normally like, but I thought I should keep an open mind.

We decided to meet.

Based on his pictures (there were 10), I arrived at Soho Park expecting someone who looked like David Addison from the Blue Moon Detective Agency. What I got was someone who looked more like Columbo. His suit was all rumpled, he had a belly like Santa, and SUCH big dark bags under his eyes that I’m confident Delta would have charged him a handling fee for merely setting foot on a plane. And even though I was in heels that made me just under 6’, he was no 5’10”.

Okaaaay. Keep an open mind.

We quickly sat down and there was this weird exchange with the waitress. She brought him something that looked like a coke or an iced coffee in a to-go cup. He sent it away and ordered a glass of white wine while I ordered a beer. Then she brought menus. “We won’t be eating,” he declared, and started rapidly firing questions at me. It felt very much like an interview, not at all like a conversation, and he kept asking me things we’d already discussed on the phone. Still, I tried to be breezy and light, tell stories, BE HUMAN. His eyes darted all around, and he checked his BlackBerry 7 times.

When I did manage to squeak a question in, I got mostly vague answers. “So, how many siblings do you have?” “A few.” “How long have you lived in New York?” “A while.” “Where’s your office?” “Downtown.” He fidgeted in his seat like a kid that had to go potty. But I did get one direct answer when I asked if his parents still lived in Florida. “They’re dead,” he replied.

Everything I said was met with the same reaction, an exaggerated, “Woooow.” We started out by talking about work, so at first, I thought the wows meant he was impressed. But when I said I liked pepperoni pizza and he said wow, I knew this date was over. He downed his glass of wine while I was only halfway thru my beer, and practically jumped out of his skin asking for the check.

It was actually pretty rude -- I was like, wait, YOU have had enough of ME? Oh, ok.

It was very awkward outside, so I went to shake his hand, as if to say, “Good luck, Freak.” Instead, he went in for a shoulder hug and an air-kiss on the cheek. But one cheek wasn’t enough -- apparently he thinks he’s European, because he barked, “One more!” and air-kissed my other cheek. I was like, ewww, you weird little midget!

And with that, I jumped in the first cab I saw, went straight home, and ate an entire pepperoni pizza.



Um, How Is It December Already?

Seriously – I’m asking! I’m not quite sure how it got to be December. I feel like I say that every year, but 2008 really feels like a blur.

You too?

Even though I don’t have a tree, my halls are officially decked with white twinkle lights, evergreen garland, and bright red poinsettias (luckily I did that before I pulled my back out). So my apt looks like the holidays -- but that didn’t do the trick. So I hit up another sense and bought some cinnamon-scented candles from Glade (those commercials really are persuasive!). I thought they would feel festive, but they really just make me dream of apple pie. Maybe I should trade them in for candles that smell like evergreen, so I can dream of being in a forest, and then wake up and be glad I’m not.

Anyway, no matter what I try, I’m finding that even though Christmas is my favorite holiday, I’m still not in the spirit. So I’ve decided to take the reindeer by the antlers and watch 5 shows that should have me saying, “Ho ho ho!” in no time.

Grab a mug of hot cocoa and come along for the (sleigh) ride:

1) Miracle on 34th Street (1947): I’m generally not a fan of old movies that don’t star Cary Grant, but this one’s a keeper. I just love the romance of old New York.

2) Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (1977): This one reminds me of being a kid, watching this with my brother after playing in the snow. These puppets are too cute, and the River Bottom Nightmare Band is, in a word, awesome.

3) Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966): It’s great that this freak skulks around Whoville stealing all their cool stuff, and pals around with Cindy Lou Who (who is no more than two), but nobody thinks it’s creepy. Ah, simpler times. Also it reminds me of being a sophomore in college, where my roommate, Jen, and I read the story aloud each night (generally after a few beers, so it’s really not as wholesome as it sounds).

4) A Christmas Story (1983): So good, it makes me want to shoot MY eye out with a Red Ryder BB Gun. And “show mommy how the piggies eat” makes me laugh every time.

5) Love, Actually (2003) and The Holiday (2006) (and let's toss in Bridget Jones’s Diary 2001 while we’re at it): These are all-round feel-good romantic comedies that just happen to take place at Christmastime. Plus, they’re set in the UK, so they’re fancy too!

Honorable mention goes to Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) because stop-motion animation is rad and I like Hermey, the elf who wishes he was a dentist.

As a final stocking stuffer, here’s a holiday confession: I hate It’s a Wonderful Life. It depresses me. That whiny little kid bugs me (“Teacher says…” shut up!). And I have no patience for Jimmy Stewart in any capacity – just spit it out already, old man, and stop all that stammering.

You know, maybe I don’t need to see The Grinch after all… I think I got that one covered.

What gets you in the holiday spirit?