An Offer We Couldn’t Refuse

An Offer We Couldn’t Refuse

Travel is an adventure. Cheap travel is a natural high.

Last year, Linda and I hatched a vague plan to celebrate her birthday in Italy. And then we forgot – until I received this email:

Subject: LAX or SFO to Rome: $200-$300 Round Trip

I forwarded the email to Linda. Five minutes later, she called.

“Is this for real?” she asked.

I’d been receiving the Scott’s Cheap Flights daily newsletter for over a year, – but never had the guts to actually book one of their deals.

“I think we have to do this,” she said.

To Book or Not to Book?

I had to admit: A round trip flight from the West Coast to anywhere in Europe for under $1000 is really hard to find. Scott’s regularly features flights in the $500-$600 range. $300 sounded unreal.

“Is there a catch?” Linda asked.

There was no catch.

“Is it a legitimate airline?” The deal was offered on Lufthansa – but the actual flight would be on their partner airline, Swiss Air, which Conde Nast readers named one of their favorite airlines last year. So yeah – it seemed legit.

We looked at the fine print: Other than a short layover in Zurich, everything seemed kosher. And there was no nonsense about paying more to bring some luggage: both a checked bag and carry-on were included.

And did I mention that the price was under $300?

The deals on Scott’s sometimes disappear within hours, so we had to decide quickly.

We booked our tickets that night. Mine came in at $287 from LAX, and Linda’s was $289 from SFO. A friend of hers also jumped on it.

The one thing I did not think when I woke up that morning was, “I think I’ll buy a ticket to Italy.” Sometimes, life surprises you.

It Was All a Mistake – And That’s a Good Thing

The folks at Scott’s told me that what we got was a mistake fare: “when an airline or online travel agency (OTA) sells a ticket for significantly less than they intended.” If you book one, they recommend you give it a week before you spend any additional money on your trip – just in case the airline doesn’t honor it.

But Lufthansa was good as gold. Our tickets were issued right away. And that’s when we discovered that most of the cost went to taxes. The actual round trip flight from LAX to Rome was just $36.

So tonight, I’m taking off and meeting my sister tomorrow in Zurich. Then, we’re off to Rome.

Arrivederci!

Playdates Are Not Just for Kids Any More

Playdates Are Not Just for Kids Any More

In late middle age, I’ve come to a realization: Playdates are not just for children.

From the day my daughter was born, I lived my life according to her needs: Up by 7:00, race to daycare/school, get a few hours of work in or grab a coffee with the other moms, back for pick-up in the afternoon, then on to after school activities/shopping/meal prep. Day after day after day.

It was predictable. And comfortable. And it all changed four years ago: She went off to college – and I lost my moorings.

This is not one of those posts where I’m complaining about my suddenly empty nest. I’m proud of the fact that I raised a young adult who is taking care of herself, and we’ve found a nice balance.  My husband and I find plenty to do together on weekends. We’re all good.

But I have had to figure out some new personal weekday rhythms.

With no reason to get up early, I often sleep in. Since I work at home, I don’t need to leave the house —   so there are weeks when I go Monday through Friday without stepping outside to do more than get the mail or take out the trash. I have been known to do my grocery shopping online… because I can. If it weren’t for Facebook and Twitter and email, there are days when I’d have no interactions with the outside world at all.

I don’t have to be a scientist to understand that this isn’t healthy.

By “Playdates” I Mean “Meeting for Coffee.” Or Cocktails.

So I now start each week combing my contacts and reaching out to local friends who might be amenable to meeting me for lunch or coffee or cocktails or dinner IRL.

And it occurs to me that this is a skill I developed 20 years ago, when I was anxious to set up playdates for my only child, so she wouldn’t grow up lonely and anti-social.

Only this time,  the playdates are for ME. And they are absolutely necessary.

I’ve talked about this with a few of these friends, who are amused by the playdate analogy.

“But you and your husband are always going out and doing interesting things,” they tell me. They know this because I post the photos to Instagram and Facebook. But those activities take place on the weekend… and besides, we all know that we curate our social media feeds so that we only share the interesting stuff. If I posted what my life is really like, it would look something like this:

I need coffee.

Why doesn't Starbucks deliver?

I should probably shower.I could go on, but you get the picture. The highlight of the day comes at the end, when I realize my cat didn’t leave me any hairballs to clean.

My “playdates” on social media may look like just a picture of a coffee cup or martini glass, but they have given me laughter… connection… and sanity. And so I’m off to schedule a few more.

Adults Need Playdates, too.

Bubbles and Sparks on the Fourth of July

Bubbles and Sparks on the Fourth of July

Five Ideas, One Menu, 15 Movies and  a Couple of Other Odds and Ends You Can Do (No Kids Required)

Celebrate the Fourth of JulyI wasn’t happy when I realized that the Fourth of July this year falls on a Wednesday.

I don’t know about you, but I think the greatest decision of the late 20th century was the one that turned holidays like Washington’s Birthday and Memorial Day into 3-day weekends. It is unfortunate they did not make a similar decision with Independence Day. I suppose “First Monday in July” is just not as much fun as “Fourth of July.”

At any rate, it can be challenging to entertain on the Fourth in years when it falls on a Wednesday “hump day.” Most people I know are hanging around town rather than taking extra days off from work. What will you do? If you want simple, but good ideas (kids optional), read below. If you want really creative time consuming ideas, go to Pinterest.

The Fireworks

This is the first thing that comes to mind for most of us when we think of this holiday. (What? The Declaration of Independence? Who are you people?)

If you live each year for the fireworks, you’ll want to either take advantage of a big display in your community OR blow some up in your front yard (but only if it’s legal – unless you crave the extra excitement and flashing lights that come from breaking local laws).

This is a true American way of literally letting your money go up in smoke –  and who doesn’t love that?

I always make sure there are at least a few whistlers in my fireworks package. The reason is practical: For years, my son used the 4th of July fireworks to blow up fruit and vegetables. This bit was a hit with the other neighborhood kids. Now that he’s all grown up and isn’t home on the 4th, our fruit is relatively safe — but I admit to missing the chaos and excitement that always came with this holiday.

Food and Drink

We’re lucky to live in an area where ”safe and sane” fireworks are legal to set off in the street, and our street always makes a big show of it. I’ve discovered that you can buy your way into your neighbors’ hearts by bringing out some sparkling wine to share with them. (The other way is to make sure you pick up your dog’s poop on their lawns. Better yet, mow their lawn once in a while.)

Be sure to purchase a couple of extra bottles of bubbles and some $1.92 champagne flutes to share. You can’t go wrong.

Most large cities and many smaller ones have their own large fireworks displays. This usually means getting in the car and driving to a park with a lot of people. Meet your friends there, bring a picnic dinner (don’t forget the bubbly) and enjoy the show.

To make it even more festive, you can add a hibiscus flower to the bottom of the glass for a very pretty look. I like adding four or five pomegranate seeds to bounce in the glass as I drink.

Invite your friends for an early dinner/BBQ. with the fireworks as the grand finale (which also works as a hint that it’s time to go home — DO make sure you serve your dessert before the fireworks).

SIMPLE MENU for Midweek Fourth of July BBQ

(This is especially easy if you have to work Tuesday and Thursday.) It is so easy, yet satifsying, you’ll actually be able to enjoy yourself and everyone will be happy:

  • Your favorite protein to BBQ (chicken, steak, salmon, etc.)
  • Cut up vegetables for grilling in a basket (cauliflower, mushrooms, squash, onion). Marinate in some olive oil and seasoned salt.
  • Small red potatoes, cut in half, seasoned with olive oil, crushed garlic, and seasoned salt. Grill in a basket.
  • Edamame salad: One bag frozen shelled edamame, one bag frozen corn, red chopped red onion to taste,  a lot of cilantro, and your choice of dressing (I use a Trader Joe’s cilantro salad dressing).
  • Egg salad with tarragon (keep mayo to a minimum, add some salt to taste)
  • Good bread
  • Purchased cake and berries, and/or ice cream

Watch a Movie

With scorching July temperatures, people clamor for a place where they can chill for a while – like an air conditioned theater. So it’s no wonder that the studios release blockbuster movies for Independence Day.  I’m more of a stay-at-home-on the-holidays kind of person, so binging on movies at home is good for me. Here are some patriotic movie suggestions for the holiday:

CH-AR-GE IT!

Go shopping – I hear that is a patriotic thing to do! Purchase a flag if you don’t have one or if yours is in bad shape. Check out the traditional patriotic shirts that are sold every year at Old Navy. There’s also this red, white and blue heart shaped necklace that is fun, or this very cool Sunnydaze hammock you can buy online.

Do Your Part

Research your community to see where volunteers are needed, either for clean-up, helping with a large event, or donations of food. If your parent is in a senior living residence, check to see if they need  Fourth of July help (or any other day). Giving to others in our community is one of the most patriotic activities we can perform.

Please leave any other ideas you have for how to spend the Fourth of July on a Wednesday. And remember, two drinks away is a good place to be.

I’ll Take Manhattan(s): Drinking in Grand Central Station

I’ll Take Manhattan(s): Drinking in Grand Central Station

Manhattan’s Grand Central Station is a city within a city, where busy commuters can take care of all their needs without ever leaving the building: Shops featuring gourmet groceries, wine & spirits, cards & gifts, clothing, accessories — even a tennis club and an Apple Store.

And of course, lots of places to grab a bite to eat – or relax with a drink before heading home.

My sister and I were not heading home for another day, but we had an afternoon to kill. So we decided to kill a few brain cells while we were at it with cocktails in a Grand Central Station bars.

And what better cocktail to imbibe in Manhattan than a Manhattan? Then one drink led to another and before you knew it, we had embarked on the kind of epic endeavor that only seems like a good idea when you’ve got a buzz on: To sample a Manhattan in every bar in the building.

Yes, it was our own personal Manhattan project.

The Classic Manhattan

For those of you who have never tried this most American of cocktails, you should know that the recipe has been around since the Gilded Age, and has remained pretty much the same:

2 parts whisky, 1 part sweet vermouth, and 2 dashes of bitters. It can be served straight (in a cocktail glass) or on the rocks (in a rocks glass). Garnish can be a twist of lemon or a maraschino cherry.

It sounds simple, but we learned over the course of the afternoon that there are lots of variations within the framework of those three ingredients, thanks to different kinds of whisky, vermouth, and bitters.

The Bar at Cipriani Dolci

Cipriani's Perfect Manhattan
Cipriani Dolci is located on the West Balcony and is part of a chain of upscale Italian restaurants that that originated with Giuseppe Cipriani’s legendary Harry’s Bar, opened in 1931 in Venice. This bar feels like it’s that old, too – even though it dates only to the station’s last renovation in 2002.

The bartender there asked if we wanted our drink order dry,  sweet, or “perfect.” This referred to the vermouth, with “perfect” made up with equal parts dry and sweet. Since perfection isn’t something you find every day, we opted for that.

And having tasted it, I’ve decided that I will ask for my Manhattans made perfect from now on. The drink’s balance of flavors was indeed, perfect – right down to its Luxardo cherry garnish. This became the benchmark against all the other Manhattans we sipped.

2. Michael Jordan’s Steak House

Manhattan at Michael Jordan's Steakhouse
Right next door to Cipriani on the East Balcony is Michael Jordan’s Steak House. The kitchen was closed for renovations on the day we visited, but the bar was open for business. Alas, their Manhattan was not all we expected.

Linda thought it was because I ordered it on the rocks and waited a few minutes, so it was watered down. But the one at Cipriani was also iced and it was delicious down to the last drop.

Perhaps it was the whisky? We asked for Bulleit in each of the two establishments but didn’t specify bourbon or rye. Perhaps Michael Jordan’s barkeeps were making Manhattans with the former when we were expecting the latter.

I was also disappointed that there was no cherry garnish, which seems a silly thing to be upset about at my age. I guess I really do like to have my cherry on top.

3. The Bar in the Northwest Hall

The Bar at Great Northern Hall

The Bar at Great Northern Hall is the type of place that employs “mixologists” instead of “bartenders.”

Our mixologist let us know that he trained with Jonathan Waxman at Barbuto. He also informed us that Bulleit wasn’t an option, because The Bar only stocks “artisanal spirits from small batch producers.”

So for our very artisanal Manhattan, we settled on Rittenhouse Pikesville rye, from Kentucky – on the assumption that since Bulleit is made in the same state, it might have a similar flavor.

This Manhattan featured its own mix of bitters: 2 angostura, 2 orange, and 2 peychoud. These were all (of course) handcrafted and sourced locally from Hudson Standard. We got into quite a conversation about bitters with our mixologist, who boasted that he keeps over 100 different kinds of bitters in his apartment.

I may add that our drink also had a house-made maraschino cherry speared by an absolutely gorgeous cocktail pick. And with all that artistry and care, how was it? Delicious.

4. The Oyster Bar

The Oyster Bar

This is the oldest watering hole in Grand Central. The tiled ceiling is gorgeous, but the rest of the decor looks like it was plucked out of the 1970s. We were expecting something that looked old and elegant, so this was a disappointment.

We cannot vouch for the quality of the seafood, but they do make a good, generic-tasting Manhattan with a pedestrian maraschino cherry.

The Oyster Bar was our last stop on our tour of Manhattans in Manhattan. We had a dinner reservation to catch in the Bowery, were definitely feeling all that bourbon and vermouth… and were under the impression that we’d actually hit every bar in the terminal. Alas, when we got back home and began the research to finish this post, we learned that there are at least two more bars we never got to see during our visit.

So now we have a reason to return…

Two Drinks Away: The Lifestyle App

Two Drinks Away: The Lifestyle App

Kim Kardashian

Kim Kardashian West at BlogHer 16. Photo courtesy of Vicky Gou.

Kim Kardashian West was one of the BlogHer 2016 keynote speakers this weekend, much to the chagrin of some old-time attendees who did not see how her brand of celebrity related to what we do as bloggers. Those folks were wrong. That was apparent when I tried to get into  the ballroom for her session. The room was overflowing with people, many of whom had probably purchased one-day passes just for a chance to see KKW in person. They had to open up additional sections of the room to accommodate all the last minute arrivals, and when Kim took the stage, the room erupted in folks with cell phones, all standing up to get a shot of her. Believe it or not, I actually knew very little about Kim . I’ve never watched an entire episode of her show (but may have to soon, as her appearance at BlogHer was being filmed for it and I’ll be interested in seeing that). As BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort Page interviewed her, it was apparent how relevant a booking this was. Kim Kardashian answered the questions with thought and intelligence – and the audience could see how being a celebrity on her scale really is a full-time job… especially the time she spends on managing her image on social media. One thing that caught my fancy was the effort she puts into the Kim Kardashian West lifestyle app, which also serves as a central tool for her to manage all her social media platforms. She said she posts to it at least three times a day. “It’s a full time job,” she said. And that’s when the light bulb went off in my head. I leaned over to Linda and whispered, “That’s what we need.” Announcing: The Two Drinks Away Lifestyle App Now, if you want full access to KKW’s daily updates and advice, you need to pay to subscribe. The beauty of the Two Drinks Away app is that we won’t make you do that: You can have all our pearls of wisdom for free. We will cover all the same categories with tidbits like this:
Donna

Donna, Age 60: Note the angle of the selfie. which hides a multitude of age-related flaws. Never take a photograph straight on if you can help it.

Beauty When I turned 50, I looked in the mirror and was shocked to see my mother looking back at me. My face has changed, and so has my makeup routine. Let’s face it (no pun intended!): no amount of lotions and potions is going to get me back the dewy, unlined skin of my youth. So I OWN IT. My face is a map of all the living I’ve done to get here (and if I’m going to be completely honest with you, some of that living was not exactly clean). I also figured out around then that I only have so much time left on the planet (a realization that is ever more urgent now that another ten years have passed). Every single minute I’ve got is precious now, and I don’t want to waste any of them on some long-ass, expensive, ultimately useless beauty routine. So I do as little as possible: Just some under eye concealer, mascara, and lipstick. It takes about five minutes. Ten if I smudge the mascara, which happens more often than you think, because I don’t see so well without my glasses and I haven’t figured out a way to apply it with my glasses on. (Don’t tell me to get a magnifying mirror; seeing how I look in one of those things ruins my entire day.) Lately, I’ve been doing the eye makeup routine even on days when I don’t think I’m going to leave the house. It pleases me.
Donna's Look

Me and the lovely Liz Rizzo. See how my shmata covers my butt.

Style If you work from home like I do, you never have to change out of your pajamas. Of course, THAT would make me feel like a slob  – so I spend nearly every day in jeans. After all, my generation pioneered the concept of “dress jeans,” casual Fridays and wearing your favorite pair even after it’s gotten ripped and torn. And now, blue denim counts as a neutral color – it goes with everything. You’re welcome. It’s not our fault that finding a good pair that fits now costs a fortune. Well, actually, I guess it is. I will pay whatever it costs to buy a pair that fits great and makes me feel good, too. Don’t let anyone diss your preferred style of slacks as “mom jeans.” I can’t wear the same styles as my daughter, and even if I could, they wouldn’t feel comfortable. Remember what I said about precious time? I refuse to waste any of it being unable to breathe because I’ve tried to stuff myself into tight clothes and Spanx. I’m 60 years old. I don’t need to play that game any longer. To get my look, make sure you pick loose tops that are long enough to cover your butt, especially when you’re bending over or sitting down. Your family and friends will thank you. An additional benefit of a long, loose top is that no one in your family will know that you unzipped your jeans after dinner when the waistband got uncomfortable and you’re rocking it Al Bundy-style.
Granite Countertop

Linda and her kitchen counter. Really, who’s gonna notice a little dirt when there’s champagne to drink?

Design We did a kitchen renovation seven years ago, which as anyone would tell you, is an overwhelming project. Fortunately, Linda’s home had undergone a major overhaul a few years prior, and I was able to benefit from her experience. She advised me to make pick a countertop that hides the dirt. I ended up buying the exact same granite top that she got, and it’s been wonderful. Ironically, the spots are camouflaged a little TOO well – even when I’m trying to get it clean, I often miss spots. Success! Obsessed These are products and promotions Kim Kardashian West touts. Two Drinks Away doesn’t have any of those, but if you follow our Facebook and Instagram streams, you’d have no trouble figuring out that we are both obsessed with food, drink and travel (a little too much). We shouldn’t have a lot of problems writing about any of those topics for our Two Drinks Away Lifestyle App. I think the app should also include recipes for cocktails, because when I tell people our site is called Two Drinks Away, that’s what they think they’ll find here My Faves These are Kim’s own products ; currently her “Kimoji” and Kimoji Merchandise. Linda has an entrepreneurial spirit and would love to develop some products that we could sell. Maybe we should hunker down and create our very own set of emoji for the over-50 crowd that we can use to terrorize our kids: Perhaps a symbol that would shorthand “Why haven’t you called me lately?” Or an icon to remind them to wear a jacket. I think we can go somewhere with these. And there you have it! The Two Drinks Away app – coming to an online store near you.      
Two Drinks at BlogHer

Two Drinks at BlogHer

BlogHer 16

Playing with a giant piece of macaroni at the Kraft booth. I really would eat one that size.

Linda and I are at the annual BlogHer conference for women who blog! And I actually wrote a post about it this morning – over at my original site, SoCal Mom.

Read it here.