April Fools’ Pranks

While I’m definitely not into April Fools’ Day trickery, I got a kick out of these collections of pranks (here, here and here).

These food-related ones are pretty funny:

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As a kid, I was on the receiving end of something similar to this:

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Except instead of mashed potatoes subbing for vanilla ice cream, my dad crafted a sundae out of two scoops of chocolate ice cream and one big meatball, then smothered the whole thing in hot fudge and whipped cream.

Four years ago at work, I also walked into my office looking something like this:

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There were more than four hundred balloons and they were everywhere. I’m still laughing to think about it.

Happy Fooling!

 

Homemade Dollhouse

Trixie and I spent yesterday afternoon crafting a dollhouse out of an old cardboard box.

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Ahhh, the old cardboard box. Still a classic plaything.

I loved doing this when I was a kid!

She needed quite a bit of help with fabricating the doors and windows, but then together we cut out pictures of interior shots from a home decorating catalog to fancy up the inside.

The outside of the box also got quite a bit of attention by drawing in trees, grass and plants.

We also crafted a few pieces of cardboard furniture, like this oven:

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This new resident found the house to be quite satisfactory:

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They’re not homemade, but check out this cool line of modern dollhouses that double as furniture from British company Qubis.

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P.S. Here is a story about a great DIY dollhouse makeover. This project is out of my league, but I admired the effort.

 

 

Gift for a Baby

One of my dear friends at work is having a baby any day now, and naturally, I want to get her a cool gift.

The only tricky thing is that this is her third baby, and by now she already has a lot of the major stuff that babies require.

My usual strategy in situations like this is to get something that will be used up and not make more clutter. A huge bonus would be to get things that make life easier, too.

This is my plan:

  • Gift cards to a few local restaurants, preferably ones that deliver. Will print menus and include with the cards.
  • A bottle of champagne. Cheers to the new baby!
  • Special baby care items that are unique and non toxic, like Honest Company products. Check out this baby arrival gift set:

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  • Something interesting for her two older kids, like the fun toys like these from Land of Nod:

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  • A month of free babysitting. Just kidding! I can barely take care of my own two kids.

Other ideas to consider:

  • Hire someone to cook a meal (or a week’s worth of meals) in her home. And clean up the mess! This is so much better than just dropping off, say, a frozen meal that needs re-heating and assembly of sides, etc. Don’t get me wrong; bringing frozen meals is still a great gesture, but what’s even better would be to have someone else shop, cook and serve the meal at her home, then clean up, leave the kitchen spotless and get out the door. I know I could do this  myself, but of course I do not cook.  Many decent-sized cities have personal chefs who will be happy to do this. You can also do a quick search for local caterers, as many boutique operations would find this right up their alley.

 

  • Spa treatments at home. While I personally think a gift certificate to a day spa would be an awesome gift, it’s not easy to make the time to use it with a newborn. Having someone come to your home for a massage, pedicure or facial is better suited to a newborn’s schedule (and by that, I mostly mean “non-schedule“). Finding someone legit to do this is actually not as hard as it sounds. Even though our city isn’t that big, I know that my usual esthetician (she does great facials and also massages) and at least one other massage therapist I have used have their own tables and sometimes work out of their homes or on the side. Since I know them well enough (and know they are not sleazy), I could probably ask for a favor this one time and tip generously on top of their usual fee.

 

P.S. While I promised myself that I would not succumb to anything ordinary, I did fall for a lot of the adorable baby outfits at J. Crew. Seriously, this little gray bunny outfit and the “hi” onesie are too cute for words.

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And what about these tiny swim trunks? So European man at the beach.

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More baby stripes I could not resist:

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Staying Motivated

Staying motivated to be healthy is an ongoing process for me, and as such, I’m always looking for new inspiration.

Fortunately, I love to run so I usually don’t need this type of motivation to exercise:

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 This list of 20 motivation hacks was helpful to me, particularly numbers 6 (never skip two days in a row) and 2 (make a big public commitment to achieve a wellness goal, like signing up for a marathon).

I also really enjoy reading transformation stories about real people who’ve made life-changing progress toward wellness. Women’s Running magazine has some great portrayals in the sections entitled “Why I Run” and “Women Who Move.”

[A weirder but intriguing set of transformation stories I stumbled upon while researching this post is located here].

Another thing that’s been really helpful to me is to be a member of a group of like-minded individuals. In my case, it’s an online group headed by my friend A, whom I have mentioned here before and is a real inspiration to me. The posts of the other members keep me in line and give me great ideas. Spouse also has a looser competition going on among his buddies from the crew team in college; they’re running a half-marathon in May in the town of our alma mater and it’s a (mostly) friendly race to the finish line. With pride on the line, game’s on!

And I keep a mini-library of inspirational pins, like this one:

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Cute workout clothes also go pretty far in my world!

How do you stay motivated to be healthy?

 

 

 

Cute Gym Bags

Yesterday’s post about getting ready at the gym launched a quick search for gym bags. Cute ones, naturally.

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This Athleta bag is the one I’m currently carrying. It’s sturdy and has lots of pockets.

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Here’s an Athleta alternative with the same price point ($79) but a slightly different shape.

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This Lululemon bag also comes in black and tan, but I like this blue color the best.

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This Nike bag is pretty but spendy ($300).

Getting Ready at the Gym

Have you ever decided not to work out because it would take too much effort on the back end to get ready all over again?

There are definitely women at my gym who show up with a wheeled bag containing a seemingly endless supply of grooming agents, as well as those who don’t even bother to shower on the way out the door.

Me? While I don’t revel in looking like a schlump, I also definitely don’t travel with a curling iron and lighted vanity mirror.

Over time, I’ve also figured out a few tricks to getting ready lickety-split.

Step 1 is to always be prepared. Be ready to work out. Have your bag packed, and not just with workout clothes. I always keep two small cases inside my gym bag at all times. The first one contains shower basics: face wash (this one, always), shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. Here’s where my abundant stash of hotel toiletries comes in handy. Sample packets of skin products that I score from beauty counters and this great five-in-one hair treatment round it out. If you can stomach it, combined shampoo and conditioner products cut shower time down even further.

The second bag is for makeup. I don’t duplicate all of my favorites, but I stock it with enough to get by, and almost everything does double or triple duty. This Bobbi Brown concealer kit is a great multitasker because it also contains pressed powder:

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I also keep a foundation stick and an eyeshadow stick (this one, a really pretty color), blush (this one also works on the lips) and mascara. Occasionally I’ll toss in something that I got for free from a beauty gift with purchase, particularly if, say, there’s a palette whose colors are ok enough not to have been immediately tossed but not quite A List material. The small brushes that come along with gifts with purchase are also perfect for this kit.

Step 2 is where I really make great time. Once out of the shower, I quickly get dressed, put on my five-in-one hair treatment and wrap my hair in a towel while I do my makeup, which takes only two or three minutes. And then I use two blowdryers, one in each hand, to roughly dry my hair about 90 percent of the way. The efficiency of this is amazing! This takes less than 5 minutes, and then I can spend a few more minutes with a paddle brush to smooth the top out.

What is even more efficient is to use one of these, if your gym is so equipped:

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Yep, it’s an old-school hand dryer. Spin the nozzle upward and two drying cycles will get your hair 90 percent dry.

[If it doesn’t seem worth it to wash your hair at all, then this genius dry shampoo and a blow dryer will actually work really well, too. And no one will know the difference].

Step 3 is a bonus, because it involves pre-workout prep. You can use your workout time to your beauty advantage by applying deep conditioner to your hair before you exercise (slather on, pull hair back into a headband or ponytail holder, then let the heat do its thing), or by generously coating your feet with moisturizer beforehand. Gym socks absorb the excess quite well. I wouldn’t recommend going so far as to apply a facial mask. Keep some mystery about yourself, please.

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The last tip I have isn’t about getting ready, but it has come in handy many times after some super sweat sessions. If your gym clothes are truly soaking wet and the thought of stuffing them back into your gym bag is less than appealing, toss them in the swimsuit centrifuge and let them spin. This works really well.

With the right tools and a plan, you can go from treadmill to office in fifteen minutes, trust me.

The Perfect Dessert

Do you ever need an impressive dessert that works for almost every occasion?

Try this flourless chocolate cake.

I mean it! 

It’s sophisticated enough for even the most particular palates***, but kids also chow it down like there’s no tomorrow. 

(It’s also gluten-free, but make no mistake; this is dessert and it is NOT healthy).

Now, everyone knows that I can’t cook a darn thing. Really.

But this cake brings it home, every time. The only potential stumbling blocks are needing a springform pan (even I can handle that) and deciding what type of chocolate to use (more below).

Seriously, follow the directions, and you are golden.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, plus more for the pan
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus a sprinkling for the pan
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I have used part of a giant Trader Joe’s bar and two semi-sweet Ghirardelli bars; both with good results)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar

What to do:

  1. Heat oven to 350° F.
  2. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with cocoa powder. (Use the paper from the two sticks of butter to do the buttering. Dump a little cocoa in your pan, roll it around, dump excess in sink).
  3. Break up the chocolate into pieces. Sampling is ok. Why wouldn’t you know what you’re getting into?
  4. In a medium pan, heat the butter with ¼ cup whipping cream over medium-low heat until the butter is melted.
  5. Add the broken chocolate and stir until melted and smooth; remove from heat.
  6. In a different  bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and cocoa.
  7. Whisk in the hot chocolate mixture from the pan.
  8. Transfer everything to the springform pan and bake until puffed and set, 35 to 40 minutes. (Abide by this! I use 35 mins). It will fall after you take it out of the oven, but that’s ok.

How to serve:

  • Dust with powdered sugar
  • With creme fraiche and berries (optional: mint leaves)
  • With whipped cream (whip the extra you bought for the paltry 1/4 cup above; season with a toss of sugar and a soupçon of vanilla)
  • With ice cream
  • Sprinkled with coarse salt (and caramel if you’re going all out)
  • As it is. This cake is really good.

*** The most recent debut of this dessert was to a group of people that I can best describe as extraordinarily nice but used to the best. I was so nervous to cook for them! But this cake was a hit. My kids also begged for the extras!