Category Archives: Fun Times

The Holiday Card Dilemma

T’was the week before Christmas
And all through the nation
Dangled the holiday card dilemma
Should I send? Or is it too much aggravation?

paragraph breakI don’t know about you, but my holiday card routine comes up for review every year.

Before the advent of e-cards, holiday cards were a given. I gave as many as I received. It was a good way of staying in touch with far flung friends and family.

But with the internet, sending a card is just a few clicks away. Easier, yes. Less costly, for sure.

So I think to myself, maybe this year an e-card will suffice. Why not? It’s the thought that counts, right?

Well, call me old school, but for me there is no comparison. I still get a thrill from finding holiday cards nestled amid the catalogs and junk mail stuffed in my mailbox. My IRL mailbox, that is.

And I enjoy buying holiday cards. Really, how cute are these, from Hallmark? (Disclosure: Hallmark sent me these cards as part of an ambassadorship program. Opinions, as always, are mine alone.)

The Holiday Card Dilemma

So although I debate each year about sending them, and although my list is shorter than it used to be, the answer is usually yes.

Holiday Card Facts — Did You Know That …

  • Americans send 1.6 billion holiday cards annually [source]
  • Women purchase an estimated 80% of all greeting cards [source]
  • E-cards have become an environmentally friendly alternative to paper cards [source]
  • Christmas cards originated in London, where Sir Henry Cole commissioned the first in 1843. [Source]
    • Two batches totaling 2,050 cards were printed and sold that year for a shilling each. [Source]
  • Despite the separation of church and state, it’s customary for the President and First Lady to send White House Christmas cards each holiday season. [source]
  • Calvin Coolidge issued the first official Christmas message to the American people in 1927. [source]

Grammarly has created a tongue-in-cheek infographic designed to help with the holiday card dilemma. Are the people on your list worthy of a stamp, an e-card, or (brrrr) the cold shoulder?

 

Holiday Card Flow Chart Infographic2

Wishing everyone on my list — and beyond — a happy holiday season and a new year filled with peace.

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How to Arrange Flowers in a Square Vase

I love having fresh flowers in the house, and on holidays and special occasions I always use them as a centerpiece on my dining room table.

I was chatting with my friend Elise about flower arrangements, and she told me she had seen something very pretty in a square vase. It sounded intriguing. I thought it would be fun to try it for Mother’s Day.

Elise offered to come over to my house and we figured it out together. It really was not difficult at all and took very little time. Thank you, Elise!

Just about any flowers will work.

Besides the flowers, there are just three items you will need. They can be found in a store like Michael’s or A.C. Moore. Your local florist may carry them, too.

a square vase, any size (we used a 5 x 5″)
oasis, which is green foamy stuff that comes in a brick
flora ribbon, which is coated and therefore waterproof (we used 4″)

1. Cut the block of oasis with a sharp knife to fit inside your vase. You can bevel the four sides but that’s not necessary.

How to Arrange Flowers in a Square Vase

2. Submerge the oasis until it is completely drenched and then set it in the vase.

How to Arrange Flowers in a Square Vase

3. Cut a piece of the flora ribbon to stretch around the perimeter of the oasis. Wrap it around and slide the seam into a corner so it’s not visible. The ribbon will be inside the vase. Now you won’t see the oasis through the glass.

4. Cut fresh flowers to whatever height you desire and stick into the oasis. We wanted our arrangement to be low. Fill in with greens, ferns or berries to enhance the look.

How to Arrange Flowers in a Square Vase

And there it is! We used hydrangeas, tulips, greens and baby’s breath and made them on the low side so that everyone can see each other across the table, but you can make them taller if you like. The flowers and greens can easily be pressed into the oasis and they stay nice and fresh for several days. It is perfect for Mother’s Day or any other occasion.

And speaking of Mother’s Day, I have an awesome set of Hallmark Mother’s Day cards to give away in time for the big day next Sunday. Leave a comment below and you may win these cards that you can send to the special women in your life.

How to Arrange Flowers in a Square VaseAnd to all the moms out there, especially my own, Happy Mother’s Day!

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And the Answer Is

I posted my four truths and a lie yesterday. I didn’t know what to expect. Was my lie an obvious one?

Let me say this about that. You,  Elin Stebbins Waldal, are the only one who guessed right!

Answer time

As promised, here are the answers. And this is the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

 1. Bette Midler once asked to take a picture with me.

TRUE. A dear friend from high school wrote two of Bette’s award-winning shows. He invited me and a few other high school friends to come see her in The Showgirl Must Go On at Caesars Palace in Vegas in 2008. Not only did she give a terrific show, she met us afterwards for chit chat and refreshments. She was very friendly and gracious. At one point she turned our little group of friends and said, “Come on, let’s take some pictures.” We hesitated for a moment, but she insisted.

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

 

2. Waiting in line to board a flight, I realized Dick Cavett was right in front of me. I was too shy to say anything.

FALSE. Totally made this up. Never happened.

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

3. I told Gary Shteyngart I was writing a book and he wished me good luck.

TRUE. I met him at a Random House event last spring. He was on a panel talking about social media and authors. Afterwards he signed books. Of course I wanted to get his latest book, Little Failure, and as he autographed it I told him that the topic of my book also involved Russian immigrants. He was charming and friendly. “Good luck with your book,” he told me, and inscribed that on the page of his book.

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

4. Jane Fonda once asked me for directions at an airport.

TRUE. This was one of the most bizarre events of my entire life. It was during the Iranian oil embargo, maybe 1973? I was driving back to Washington, DC where I attended college. It was dark and I was still an hour from Washington with only a quarter tankful of gas. I looked for a gas station but I didn’t see one. In desperation, I took the Baltimore Washington Airport exit. What was i thinking? That there would be gas there? Anyway, it was almost deserted. Eerily so. I parked my car and started to walk into the terminal to ask for help. Jane Fonda and another person were standing there waiting for a cab. The normal cab line was empty. “Do you know where we can get a cab?” she asked me. I did a double take. Yes, it was her.

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

5. I waved to President Kennedy when he was on the campaign trail, and he looked straight at me and waved back.

TRUE. I was about seven years old and JFK was coming to my hometown for a campaign stop. My mother wanted to see him so she packed me into the car and we drove downtown to where the parade would be. Only thing was we didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to park  (no municipal garages back then). By the time we found a space on a side street and walked toward the parade, it was over. Gone. Dejected, we walked back to the car. All of a sudden the motorcade turned the corner and came down our street. No one was there but us. As the car passed we waved, and JFK smiled at us and waved back.

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

 

 

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To Tell the Truth or Not

Back in the day, I was addicted to television game shows. One of them was To Tell the Truth. Do you remember it? I’m talking about the days of Garry Moore and those wonderful panelists, Kitty Carlisle, Peggy Cass, Orson Bean, Tom Poston. Remember the elegant gowns Kitty Carlisle wore?

Truth or Not?

Anyway, I thought of this show last week when several blogging friends of mine all posted a list of four things that were true and one that was not, and the reader had to guess which was the lie. It was fun reading their posts and learning more about them, but as far as guessing the correct answer? Let’s just say that Gary Moore would have given me a big red X under my name.

Obviously I’m not very good at this. But maybe you are. Let’s see how well you know me — or how good I am at fooling you. Here are my items, all with a celebrity theme. Four are true and one is not.

I’ll reveal the answers tomorrow.

 1. Bette Midler once asked to take a picture with me.

 

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

 

2. Waiting in line to board a flight, I realized Dick Cavett was right in front of me. I was too shy to say anything.

 

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

3. I told Gary Shteyngart I was writing a book and he wished me good luck.

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

 

4. Jane Fonda once asked me for directions at an airport.

 

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

5. I waved to President Kennedy when he was on the campaign trail, and he looked straight at me and waved back.

 

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

 

So … which one is the lie?

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My Bra-mance with Erma Bombeck

Have you ever laughed so hard that you had to clutch your gut and gasp for breath?

For three days straight?

Thank you, Erma Bombeck.

That was me and about 350 others last weekend at Destination Hilarity, formally known as the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, a veritable laugh-in and love-in for humor writers (mostly women). With so many giggles, guffaws, belly laughs and woo hoos, my stomach muscles are still crying for mercy.

Spend three days surrounded by awesome comedic talent and a bundle of good cheer and this is what happens. While your stomach is in stitches, you fall in love.

My Bra-mance was Kindled.

My bra-mance with Erma and all the Bombeckians took flight, like lovebirds soaring, and I am still swooning.

Now, I didn’t expect the tone of this conference to be serious. Of course not. But I couldn’t have imagined being thrown into paroxysms of glee for three days straight. I think I was even chuckling in my sleep (my room mate Lois Alter Mark can attest to that).

The quality of the workshops was amazing. We learned about writing and editing and publishing, about finding your voice and writing concisely and perfecting your words until they gleam like polished silver.

Erma was all about finding the humor in everyday life. She found a treasure trove of material in her very own household. This was the lesson echoed by every presenter: the source of your material is right there. You just have to condense it into a nugget, and make it sing.

Laughter and Tears

There is nothing in life that can’t be massaged into a piece of humor, keynoter Lisa Scottoline told us, and regaled us with so many funny stories about her family.

She also shared with us that her mother had gone into hospice, suddenly, and Lisa was cutting her time at the conference short so she could go home to be with her.

And that was the other piece of this conference: pathos.

Amid the laughter there were tears. For Lisa’s mother. For Erma Bomeck’s untimely demise, which Phil Donahue described so eloquently. For Mary Lou Quinlan’s moving tribute to her mother, her greatest cheerleader.

I am still processing everything I learned, all the emotions I felt. And I can’t wait to apply all of it to my writing.

Takeaways from the Erma Conference

10.  It is good to have cake at every meal and snacks twice a day. And the Marriott and University of Dayton get (gluten-free) brownie points for trying really hard to please those of us with food restrictions.

9.  Erma keynoters rock. Each one was funny, warm, polished, and down-to-earth. And good looking, of course.

8.  As a newbie, I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in. Can I tell you that this was the nicest, friendliest group of conference-goers I’ve ever been with?

7.  Generosity of spirit and wisdom. That pretty much sums up every presenter.

6.  Watching others pitch their books filled me with admiration for their talent – and the chutzpah it took to get up there in front of the crowd. I will try to do this at the next Erma conference.

5. The message that Erma said turned her life around: You Can Write! Erma went through the same self-doubts of most writers, but she took these words to heart.

You Can Write! Erma Bombeck Writers Conference

4. Phil Donahue set the tone for the conference with his warm and funny tribute to Erma. Phil looks the same, talks the same and was total perfection.

Lois, Phil Donahue and me

3. Just as I thought that nothing could surpass Phil’s extraordinary keynote, along came Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serratella, blowing me away with their wit, writing smarts and sheer likeability.

Lois, Lisa S and me

2. The presence of Erma, as each keynoter and presenter kept her spirit alive in their comments. There were references to her throughout: her comic genius, how she blazed a trail, and as Phil said, “She wasn’t the first. She was the only.”

erma sign

1.  Meeting new friends I have gotten to know online – and reconnecting with those I’ve met before – priceless.

Erma Bombeck Writers ConferenceErma once said, “If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.”

Erma, you were with us every minute. You would have been proud. Thank you for showing us the way.

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The Bachelor Finale: A Withered Rose

Deep breath.

I am a fan of The Bachelor. rose The Bachelor

There. I’ve said it. Go ahead, judge me. Tell me I have no life. Call me shallow, tasteless. Of surprisingly poor character.

But as this season’s Bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis would say, “S’okay. I’m just being honest.”

I’m a Hopeless Romantic.

I admit that I look forward to Monday nights with an inordinate amount of pleasure. I get completely caught up in the week-to-week adventure of a good-looking guy looking for love and hoping to find it among the 25 or so young woman on the show. As they travel from one exotic locale to another, I lose myself in the romance, artificial as it is.

I settle in front of the TV and block out extraneous interference. My children know that if they call between 8 and 10 pm. it is my husband who answers the phone. If it is an emergency, I will speak with them during a commercial.

The fun of watching is surely due to the hilarity of live tweeting, so entertaining that it keeps me laughing even (especially) when the show falters. Let me just say that there are some funny people on Twitter.

Is it the voyeur in me that enjoys following the “journey” ( a commonly used Bachelor term, along with “for the right reasons”)? Or the romantic part of me that hopes that by the end of the season the Bachelor (or Bachelorette) finds true love and lives happily ever after? One can hope. The track record on this show is pretty dismal, but there are some exceptions; several couples have gotten married and remain together, happily, it seems.

The Bachelor was a Loser

What made this season “the most dramatic Bachelor season ever” (always used in Bachelor promos, but perhaps true this time) is that hunky but personality-deprived Juan Pablo pretty much alienated almost every contestant. As well as us viewers.

This season I never became emotionally invested in either of the finalists, Clare and Nikki, and Juan Pablo’s machismo had grown so annoying that I was no longer besotted. He was cocky, inarticulate and one-dimensional.  Like former contestants Sharleen, an opera singer, and Andi, an attorney, I  bailed on him toward the end. Bravo to them, by the way.

Even his family members warned Clare and Nikki that he was “rude,” “liked to argue and walk away,” and “difficult.” This is from his family, mind you!

Spoiler Alert

Iwithered rose The Bachelorn the end, Clare was booted, Nikki got the final rose but no proposal, and Juan Pablo’s likeability rating took a nose dive. Even Chris Harrison could barely speak to him.

The good news? Lawyer Andi is the next Bachelorette.

I can’t wait.

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That’s a Great Question!

It was because we were staggering under the weight of our purses, carry bags, winter coats and Starbucks items that my friend Lois and I sought out a temporary refuge in the mammoth Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City.

Saturday, Day 2 of The New York Times Travel Show, a trade show for the travel industry. We were there as lifestyle bloggers who write about travel. question about coffee

We needed to get caffeinated regroup before heading into the cavernous expo hall. Walking and talking and eating and schlepping simultaneously, with a hot flash or two thrown in making us either fan ourselves or shiver, was a little bit too much multi-tasking for us.

We spied a table and several unoccupied chairs and made a dash for it as adroitly as two middle-aged perspiring women can manage, and sat down,  congratulating ourselves on finding this oasis.

Seconds later, a young woman approached us, and asked us where the blah blah exhibit was.

Lois and I exchanged glances, and we both shrugged. “I’m sorry, we don’t work here,” Lois said politely. The woman, disappointed, turned away.

Back to our drinks, and it happened again. Once more, we explained apologetically that we were mere conference attendees ourselves.

Why were people asking us these questions, we wondered.

After the third person approached us and was turned away, she pointed to the front of our table. “It says ‘Questions?’” she told us. “So I figured …”

question at Javits Center

Before she left to find someone more knowledgeable, and between gales of laughter, we begged her to take our photo.

But here’s the thing.

The next person who approached us was looking for the bathroom. Well, we could help with that.

“You see the Starbucks over there?” Lois gestured. “It’s one floor down, just below the Starbucks.”

This was fun. It was pretty cool being the source of information. So what if we weren’t always right? We liked being sought after, appreciated, needed. Admired for this unique information-dispensing quality.

“Where can I get a program book?” someone inquired.

We almost jumped over each other to answer.

“Can I get a plastic cover for my badge in the expo hall?” another asked.

“Yes, you can!” Lois said brightly.

“Anyplace I can get coffee without standing in line for an hour?” a woman asked, as she glanced doubtfully at the Starbucks line snaking like a Disneyland formation.

“Indeed,” I replied. “I got mine at that kiosk over there (pointing) and it was fine.”

“Is the coffee strong enough?” she asked. I nodded and smilingly sent her on her way.

Lois and I high fived each other, and pondered a future in this line of work. Maybe, with time and experience, we could respond to questions of a somewhat more complex nature. Like:

“Excuse me, is Aristotle’s empirical approach to studying nature still relevant today?”

or

“Hi, I wondered if you could explain the migration habits of hummingbirds to me?”

or

“Hey, this may be a dumb question, but you gals look like you know.  Einstein’s static universe theory: yay or nay?”

Who knowquestion lois and helenes? Maybe there is a www.askloisandhelene.com in our future, a kinder and gentler Google. A search engine with heart. Slower to respond, yes, but quick with a virtual hug. Does Google ask about your father’s health and tell you you’ve got a smudge of something on your cheek?

Lois and I need the practice. So go ahead. You ask, we answer! Keep it (mostly) clean and we will respond. Leave me a comment here or on Lois’ post or tweet us using the hashtag #askloisandhelene.

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Wordless Wednesday: Booty Call

boots

No, not that booty.

After breaking a bone in my foot the week before Thanksgiving, I was in a clunky old compression boot that virtually rendered me immobile. It’s been a l-o-n-g six weeks. But now I’m healed. Off and running. Well, walking.

I feel five pounds lighter.

wearing a boot

 

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Wordless Wednesday: Empty Theater

movie popcorn

Several weeks ago, my daughter and I decided to take the afternoon off and catch a movie. Only thing was, she really wanted to see “Gravity,” which I had already seen, and I opted for “About Time.” So we split up.

The huge multiplex theater was completely empty but for me. I marveled at the thought of the private screening I was about to enjoy, and settled back in my seat as the trailers began.

Just then, a group of 20 chatty women entered the theater. They could have sat anywhere, right? But where did they go? You guessed it. My space was invaded and my reverie interrupted, and the empty theater was no longer so.

I still enjoyed the movie.

empty theater

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How to Celebrate an Anniversary in Philadelphia

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way by the Ritz Carlton, Zama or The Barnes Foundation for this post. All opinions are my own.

Knowing us, I doubt my husband and I would have ever thought to treat ourselves to a night at a fancy five-star hotel in downtown Philadelphia. After all, we live only half an hour away. It would have seemed frivolous. Unnecessary. Why bother?

It turns out that our children were the wiser ones in this case when they decided to give us a weekend package —  a night at The Ritz Carlton Hotel, breakfast the next morning, and tickets to the fabulous Barnes Foundation — as our birthday gift.

But since our birthdays were in the spring and we had weekend commitments in the summer, we opted to wait until last weekend for our special getaway, especially since it was also our anniversary weekend. It would be a double celebration.

Saturday, 4 p.m.

As we walked through the Ritz Carlton’s grand lobby to the check-in desk, we were greeted by many smiling hotel staff members ready and anxious to assist. Would I like a glass of champagne, one asked as she came over carrying a silver tray with flutes? Why yes, I would.

Ritz Carlton Philadelphia hotel lobby

After dropping off our suitcase in our sumptuous deluxe hotel room, we decided to catch an early showing of “Blue Jasmine” at one of our favorite movie theaters in Philadelphia. It was at this very theater that we had our second date so many years ago: “Chariots of Fire.” I liked it better than he did.

movie theaterOn the way, we passed by the exact spot where my husband and I first met one snowy January night. It was nostalgic, but how things have changed. What used to be the stately PNB Building is now a Walgreen’s.

Broad and Chestnut, Philadelphia

It all began on this corner 31 years ago.

Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Since the evening air was so delightfully balmy, we decided to stroll up lively Walnut Street, savoring the tantalizing aromas emanating from each restaurant along the way. Here is a view of City Hall from the corner of Broad and Walnut.

city hallWe had dinner at the trendy and fun Japanese restaurant, Zama. The sushi was to die for.

plates of sushiWe were comfortably full and resisted dessert, figuring we could get something later if we really felt like it. We ambled by leafy Rittenhouse Square on the way back to the hotel, stopping at a Barnes and Noble to browse for a few minutes. The very first time we met, on that snowy January night, we talked about books. We really did.

Saturday, 10 p.m.

When we got to the room, look what was waiting for us: dessert! A chocolate chip birthday cake and chocolate candy from the hotel.

cake

Sunday, 9 a.m.

One of us went on a six-mile run on the scenic Kelly Drive along the river and the other one read the newspaper and watched the Sunday morning pundits on TV. I bet you can guess who did what.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before checking out of the hotel.

fruit and omelette

Sunday, 12 p.m.

The pièce de resistance of our special getaway was the visit to the incomparable Barnes Foundation. We spent several hours visually drinking in the beauty of this glorious collection of Impressionist art. I highly recommend adding the Barnes to your sightseeing plans if you visit Philadelphia.

Every minute of our 24-hour vacation was enjoyable and a fantastic way to celebrate a special occasion. We are so lucky to have such thoughtful children who picked the perfect gift for us.

As we drove home, we wondered why we don’t do this every year.

in front of the Barnes Museum

in front of the Barnes Museum

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