Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Best Cat Toy Ever

I bought this "Cheese Chase" toy yesterday for Leo, our new kitten, and he LOVES it.

Unfortunately, I bought it at Petco, and paid $24.99, and just found it on Amazon for half that price.

Ah well.  He's been playing with it constantly, so it was worth every penny. But if you want one for your own cat, head on over to Amazon for the best deal.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Moon Landing 50th Anniversary -- Thinking of My Dad

As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing, I want to tell you about my Dad.

He wasn't an Apollo 11 astronaut, and he wasn't famous, but he was there with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins when they arrived on the Moon 50 years ago today.

My dad was an electrical engineer working for Grumman in Bethpage, NY during the 1950s & 1960s, designing circuit boards for the Gemini and Apollo space missions, including the lunar module that went to the Moon.

Dad's name, along with the names of the others who worked on the project, as put on a piece of parchment. The Apollo 11 astronauts brought that parchment with them and left it on the Moon. 

I was too young to remember the Moon Landing itself, but throughout my childhood, I would look up at the night sky and smile, knowing my Dad's name was up there.

My Dad died in 2006. He's not here to celebrate the Moon Landing 50th, but it still brings me joy knowing that a part of him lives forever on that glowing satellite 238,900 miles away.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Rest in Peace, Mittens

Mittens Cupcake Yakomin,  a.k.a. "Boy-Boy" passed away peacefully today at the impressive age of 19.  He leaves behind his loving mother, Amy, his doting aunts Christina and Cathy, his grandparents Lisa & Rich, and a large extended family that adored him.

Mittens lived a long and happy life, filled with countless kisses, cuddles, and scratches behind his ears.  In his kittenhood, he quickly learned about gravity after diving off the second floor of his Woodcliff Lake home down to the family room below.  He survived the fall, decisively disproving the adage that "cats always land on their feet" by landing solidly on his nose.  This resulted in a slightly crooked, Rocky Balboa-esque profile that he proudly used for "badass street cred" amongst his housecat contemporaries in the years that followed.

He was not a fan of "human food" unless it was being actively consumed by a human who did not wish to share it, at which point he would relentlessly stick his face into whatever vessel was holding the food in order to inspect it properly.  Vanilla frosting, hot coffee, ramen noodles, and bagels with cream cheese were particularly unsafe in his presence.  He was also known to enjoy a roll on the floor with a catnip toy now and again, but always knew his limits and never overindulged.

To fully understand what a fixture Mittens was in the Yakomin Family household, one must consider all that he witnessed during his 19 glorious years of life.  When he was born on April 4, 2000, the Twin Towers still graced the NYC skyline,  the average cost for gasoline was $1.26 a gallon, and President Bill Clinton was serving his final year in the Oval Office. On the home front, Amy was still a few weeks shy of her 4th birthday, Christina was 5, and Cathy was not even born yet.  During his lifetime, he shared in every important milestone, from Baptisms and Graduations to Driver's Licenses and College Acceptances. Through it all, Mittens was there, reminding us that no matter what was going on in our lives, he was not particularly impressed by any of it.

Officially adopted on June 10, 2000, he became the first of many pets to join the Yakomin household, and with each new addition, it became his mission to outlive every single one of them.  In this, he succeeded.

Mittens was predeceased by his hamster siblings Melissa, Squeaky, Cinnamon, and Berry, fire-bellied toads Emily and Elizabeth, guinea pig Crystal, sister-cat Tiger, brother-dog Scooter, and as Mittens was often fond of saying, "so many damn tropical fish it was never worth learning any of their names, quite frankly."

His hobbies included eating, sleeping, relaxing, eating, watching TV, using the litterbox as soon as company arrived, eating, and alerting everyone within a 5 mile radius when his food bowl was empty.  In his prime, he tipped the scales at 16 pounds, eventually becoming so overweight he took to simply ripping out stray clumps of fur and spitting them on the floor in large piles, as the elaborate stretching involved with grooming oneself proved cumbersome and, in his opinion, gratuitous.

He did not fear the vacuum cleaner, never swallowed pills no matter how cleverly they were disguised, and enjoyed taunting the birds outside with a hard stare while making a creepy clicking sound.  He found laser pointers entertaining and spiders delicious.  He avoided movement as much as possible, and shifted couch position only when necessary.

Most of all, Mittens was a steady and constant presence of love and devotion for his family members for nearly two decades, and his loss, though not unexpected, is heartbreaking for us. The depth of our grief at his passing is exceeded only by the enormous love we had for him, the limitless joy he brought to our family, and the enduring blessing that his memory will bring in the years to come.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Pride Month Birdfeeder

Yes, even our birds are allies!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Gifting our children with roots AND wings

My youngest daughter left today for a Summer semester of Study Abroad in France. This is the first time she has ever traveled so far alone, without a family member, and I am equal parts proud, excited, envious, and despondent.  I know she will have a wonderful time, and that she deserves this adventure.  I also tell myself that this is what my husband and I have worked so hard to do in raising our children, to make them confident and self-assured enough to spread their wings and explore the world on their own, to discover things through their own eyes, unfiltered by ours.  I want her to see and experience other cultures and customs, and to cultivate the strength and inner composure that comes from venturing off alone in unfamiliar territory. 

Letting go is not easy, and knowing that it's absolutely the right thing to do does not make it any less terrifying.

Whoever said this parenting thing gets easier totally lied.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Meet Mr. Snakey

I never go barefoot outside, but my neighbor's dog got loose and decided to run around in my backyard, so I ventured out just this once without shoes or socks on.  I managed to wrangle Miss Daisy and get her back home safe and sound, but as I headed back inside, I came awfully close to stepping on THIS little guy.  Good thing we both have fast reflexes: I stopped in the nick of time, and he jumped out of the way onto some nearby rock. Crisis averted.  We have so many different types of wildlife outside in the yard, and I love the variety that we get to see each day.

From a safe and respectful distance, that is.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Aquagrill in NYC

We had a great time tonight, enjoying dinner with good friends who were in NYC for a visit.  The last few times they've been in town, we always end up at Aquagrill at 210 Spring Street for dinner, and it never disappoints.  We arrived a bit early and I had a cocktail that was crazy-good: a jalapeño quencher that was crisp and refreshing, with a nice hot pepper kick at the end.

The oysters were phenomenal, as usual, as was the service.  If you ever find yourself in SoHo, looking for a terrific restaurant, check our Aquagrill

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Flavored Peeps: The Latest "Limited Edition Flavor " Abomination

Peeps marshmallow candies have been around longer than I have--according to Wikipedia, the chick-shaped sugar-coated confections first debuted in 1953, produced in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.   As a child, no Easter holiday was truly complete unless you had one of these bright yellow, sticky, marshmallow chicks waiting for you in your Easter Basket.  

Eventually, the Just Born company started releasing Peeps in a range of colors.  From Wikipedia: The yellow chicks were the original form of the candy — hence their name — but then the company introduced other colors and, eventually, the myriad shapes in which they are now produced. Peeps were manufactured in different colors such as lavender and blue starting in 1995. Prior to that they were only being produced in the traditional colors: pink, white, and yellow. New flavors such as vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate were introduced between the years of 1999 and 2002."

I'm sorry to report that things have officially gotten out of hand.  In keeping with the relentless onslaught of "Limited Edition" flavors that our tried-and-true favorites have been releasing (yes, Oreos, I'm looking at you), the other day, I stumbled across Party Cake Peeps and Pancakes & Syrup Peeps.  

My expectations, dear Reader, were not high. 

It took us a few days to work up the nerve to taste them, and we started with the Pancakes & Syrup Peeps because we figured those would be nasty, and then we could cleanse our palates with the Party Cake Peeps.  

As it turned out, the Pancakes & Syrup Peeps were actually quite good. Yes, they're super-sweet, but they smell and taste EXACTLY like imitation maple syrup--which is to say, not nearly as good as Grade A Pure Canadian Maple Syrup, but not bad.  They also had a nice, consistent color--like they'd been basking on the beach in the Caribbean and came home with a tan. 

The Party Cake Peeps were another story.  The aroma as soon as you open the package is distinctly familiar.  No, not birthday cake--they smell exactly like Play-Doh.   I kid you not. 

As for the taste--ugh.  I couldn't get past the first bite. It didn't really have a flavor other than the usual marshmallow, but the smell of Play-Doh was so off-putting, I chose not to continue.  My daughters each finished theirs, and agreed--barely any flavor, and the smell was weird and off-putting.  Their appearance was also strange--ghostly white with odd green, yellow and blue speckles, like a sick chick with a rare case of Skittles pox.

The verdict:  Pancakes & Syrup may be worth trying if you'd like to experience the novelty of it (or to have an excuse to eat Peeps for breakfast) but skip the Party Cake Peeps--they're not worth it!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Keyboard Warriors: Log Out and Tune In

Is there such a thing as being too "woke"?  It's a provocative question, and one that I've been mulling for a couple of months now. (An excellent article on this topic that appeared last year in The Grio: Five Signs You May Be Taking Woke Too Far.)

I fully support the right of Free Speech, and one of the most significant things about social media is that it has provided a widely-available platform for anyone, from any background, to state their views to a worldwide audience.  However, attempting to educate other people while sitting behind your keyboard from the comfort of your own home isn't exactly a revolutionary or life-changing act of courage.

I refer to people like this as "Keyboard Warriors": they enjoy talking a good game online, typing out their opinions and then sitting back to bask in the glow of all the "likes" and "Amen" comments that follow from their online friends. Unfortunately, taking up permanent residence in that kind of vanity-steeped echo chamber doesn't allow much room for personal growth, for the "warrior" or the audience they're trying to sway.

So, a few words of unsolicited advice to all of the "keyboard warriors" out there: if you really want to make a difference in the world, step away from the computer once in awhile, put down your smartphone, and take an active, meaningful role in the REAL world if you want to effect positive change.  Join a grassroots group near you that advocates for issues you care about, and back up your words with action.  Don't just post photos of your "I Voted!" sticker once a year--get out there and volunteer for the candidates you admire, participate in phone banks or door-to-door canvassing, and engage in whatever Get Out the Vote efforts are happening in your area.

There are many ways to make your voice heard, but remember: Actions Speak Louder Than Words. If you really want people to wake up and listen and see things your way, then get out there and DO something about it.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Black History Month: Racism at the USPS

A recent article assignment required me to do some research on the U.S. Postal Service. Along the way, I found this bit of history regarding the earliest days of the postal system, and the use of slaves to deliver the mail.  

The Constitutional Post was founded in 1774 by William Goddard, as a way for the colonists to talk treason without fear of being caught by the British-run postal service. As such, the handling of mail was taken very seriously by America's Founding Fathers, and up until 1799, the punishment for stealing U.S. mail was death, even for first time offenders. 

In 1794, word got back to Postmaster General Timothy Pickering that slaves were being permitted to deliver letters.  Pickering strongly opposed slavery, and responded that he approved of slaves handling the mail. His successor, Postmaster General Joseph Habersham, took things a step further in 1801, not only endorsing slaves as mail carriers, but even expressing a preference for them, writing, "especially as it came within my knowledge that slaves in general are more trustworthy than that class of white men who will perform such services." 

Unfortunately, as years passed and tensions over the issue of slavery intensified, the next Postmaster General, Gideon Granger, believed that allowing slaves to handle the mail was dangerous. Granger wrote to Congress, warning them that since the "most active and intelligent" slaves were typically the ones chosen to deliver mail, it was cause for concern, because once black men experience that level of responsibility "they will learn that man's rights do not depend on his color. They will, in time, become teachers to their brethren." 

Congress agreed with Granger's prediction, and responded by declaring that "no other than a free white person shall be employed in carrying the mail of the United States."  As a result, black men were not permitted to handle the U.S. mail again until 1865, after the end of the Civil War.

This sad and shameful time in U.S. history is painful to revisit, but necessary.  This historical anecdote underscores the importance of cultivating and maintaining open communication, especially among marginalized groups. It's essential to keep talking to one another, supporting each other, and working together to make things better.  Don't allow others to silence you--use your voice!

This story also spotlights a universal truth: one of the best ways to help a person realize their worth is by giving them a job, entrusting them with responsibility, and providing them a sense of purpose. 


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine's Day:Two great recipes!

This Valentine's Day was a busy one for us, so instead of heading out to a restaurant after a long day, we opted to have a quiet dinner at home.  On the menu: a delicious Slow-Cooked Beef Ragu over Pappardelle pasta.  [note: I used Beef Stock instead of water and bouillon, and used a cup of red wine as well. I cooked it on the stove for much longer than the recipe states--more like 4.5 hours--and it was well worth it].

I also made creme brulee for the first time, and rather than have the standard vanilla variety, we decided to try a coffee-based version: Espresso Creme Brulee.  I let my husband do the "torch work" because my tiny kitchen torch was out of butane, and the heavy-duty torch he uses in the workshop scares me.

Everything turned out great. Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Social Media Hoaxes: No, You Haven't Been Hacked

I think we need to create some sort of "social media time out" for people who, despite being warned over and over again, continue to fall for hoaxes that have made the rounds on social media, only to be debunked multiple times.

Every few weeks or so for the past several months, I get at least half a dozen people on my Facebook feed posting "Oh no, I've been hacked again! Don't accept friend requests from me." Without fail, not one of these people was actually hacked--all they did was perpetuate that old chain letter that's been going around via Facebook messenger.  Tip: any warning that takes the time to walk you through the process of how to Copy and Paste something so you can post it verbatim ("just hold your finger down on this message, and...") is assuming that you're not internet savvy and, therefore, easily fooled.  Don't fall for it.

The other hoax I've seen repeatedly: a copied and pasted message that claims to "trick Facebook's algorithms" that have kept you from seeing posts from more than just a few people.  The magic trick to undo this nefarious scheme? You guessed it--cutting and pasting something verbatim, and posting it as your status.  No, people, it doesn't work.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Recipe: Avocado Toast

My new favorite breakfast: Avocado Toast. It’s low on carbs, big on flavor, nutritious, and tides me over until lunch time with no snacking in between.

There are no “rules” when it comes to Avocado toast, so experimenting with different flavor combinations, depending on what you have on hand, is highly encouraged.

This morning’s version: 647 low carb bread, toasted, with half an avocado sliced up on top. Add salt & pepper,  a drizzle of pesto sauce, and top with a fried egg. Good stuff!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Oreo Smackdown: "Love" vs. Carrot Cake vs. Dark Chocolate

It's been an ongoing hobby to sample and rate the new "Limited Edition" Oreo flavors as they are released, so when I spotted THREE new flavors at my local Wegman's, I snatched up one of each, and brought them home for a post-dinner family taste test. Tonight, we have "Love" Oreos vs. Carrot Cake Oreos vs. Dark Chocolate Oreos.   Which one will reign supreme among them? 

Full disclosure, for those who follow my Oreo taste tests regularly: I had the whole family voting this time, since I'm avoiding processed foods in the New Year, and only had a small taste of each. But that's okay, because for one of these cookies in particular, one small taste was one taste too many. 

First up: Love Oreos

Oh. My. Gosh.  These are HEINOUS. As soon as we opened the package, one of my daughters said, "Ewww...what's that smell?!?"  These cookies emit a harsh, chemical odor that is difficult to pin down: acrid and bitter and just...really unpleasant. It took a bit of coaxing for each of us to actually take a bite, and the taste was equally awful.  The package doesn't give a clear indication of what the flavor is supposed to be, other than to call them "Sweet & Tangy," but the closest we could come to describing these is a very highly-concentrated, artificial fruit-flavored cereal, like Fruit Loops or Trix mixed with nail polish remover instead of milk. “Sweet & Tangy?” More like Vile & Nasty.   Avoid these at all costs--warn your friends AND your enemies.

Overall Grade: F

Next up: Carrot Cake Oreos

We all had high hopes for this one, and I'm happy to say we were not disappointed. As soon as we opened the package, the aroma of carrot cake filled the air.  They definitely nailed the scent.  The cookie itself also smelled like graham cracker, but there was not much carrot on the flavor profile. 

One thing that impressed me, before I even tasted these, was the ratio of filling to cookie--each sandwich cookie had a very generous dollop of cream cheese filling flavored creme. The filling is absolutely delicious, with a smooth, rich texture.  The only drawback: everyone agreed that these were a little too sweet. One of my daughters said that she would definitely eat these again as a snack, but that she probably wouldn't be able to have more than 2 cookies in one sitting.

Overall Grade: A-

Last but not least: Dark Chocolate Oreos

The sandwich cookie is basically the same as a regular Oreo, and doesn't add much to the overall taste profile. However, the enjoyment of this flavor begins as soon as you open the bag, and catch the scent of heavenly dark-chocolate. The dark creme filling tastes rich and fudgey, like fresh brownie batter--you can tell they use real cocoa for this recipe, and it says so right on the package. 

The Dark Chocolate Oreos weren't overly sweet, and my husband and daughters all said they can't wait to try them dunked in milk, which will probably enhance the flavors even more.  I can guarantee that this bag won't last long in my house, even without me eating them. 

Overall Grade: A

It was VERY close, but the winner of tonight's Oreo Smackdown was the Dark Chocolate Oreo. The Carrot Cake Oreos came in second, and the Love Cookies need to pulled from supermarket shelves ASAP because they are JUST. THAT. BAD.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Goals for 2019

I've never been one for making New Year's Resolutions, but there's something about turning that page on a brand new year, hanging a new calendar (or two!) in my home office, that gets me thinking about goals I'd like to set in the year ahead.

At the dinner table last night, my family and I talked about our goals, but then I saw this photo about actually writing them down, taking the steps needed to turn Dreams into Reality.

This morning, I put pen to paper, and I noticed a theme emerge: the need to be more selective in how I spend my time.  As a freelancer, I set my own schedule, and it's been a grueling one for the past year.  The best thing about working from a home office is also the worst thing: you don't have to leave the house to get to your job, but you also never get away from your workplace.

In the year ahead, I'd like to do a better job of setting limits on my work hours. There are times when inspiration hits at 11pm, and I just go with it, and that'll probably never change, but that can lead me to a mindset where I'm never off-duty.  I'm going to experiment with picking a specific time window when work tasks are strictly off-limits. On the flip side of that, I'd also like to set aside a specific time and day of the week for pursuing something non-work related that I enjoy.

I'd also like to use my time more wisely.  Part of my work entails managing clients' social media accounts, so logging onto Facebook and Twitter isn't just fun and games, it's also a necessary part of the work day. Unfortunately, it can be a bit too easy to get sucked into other pursuits once you start scrolling through, and the number of distractions start adding up.  I'll be more disciplined about staying on task in the months ahead, and not getting lured down the rabbit hole of recipes, political posts, and viral videos.

Another goal: to connect with friends in person more than I do online.  There's no substitute for direct communication with someone, sitting across a table, making eye contact and reading their facial expressions and hearing directly from them how they're doing, not some filtered online version of real life.

Writing more and getting caught up on my massive "books to be read" pile are perennial goals, so I'm filing those under the same overall category of using my time more efficiently.

Maintaining good health is always a priority, and this year, I'm going to focus more on my overall well-being--not just physical fitness and nutrition, but the mind/body/spirit connection.

The news and unstable political climate can be emotionally draining, and one of the things I know I need to work on is being less reactive to upsetting situations that arise, locally and on the national level. "Choose your battles" is good advice, and something I'm going to do more of in the year ahead. To keep things in perspective, I'm going to try the 10-10-10 method I heard about on TV once: when faced with a tough decision, ask yourself: what will be the consequences of this decision in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years?  [I googled--this was based on advice from author Suzy Welch on Oprah.] 

I'm also a big believer in the words of Mahatma Gandhi: You Must Be the Change You Wish to See in the World. I have these words plastered on my office wall, as a daily reminder of the importance of making a positive difference in the world.  I'm looking forward to further prioritizing my volunteer advocacy, and working for the passage of common-sense legislation that makes our community safer.

I know, it's quite the list--I'm exhausted just reading it. Here's to a productive 2019!