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Becky Graebner

Becky Graebner moved to the east coast from Wisconsin in 2011. She is still a rabid Badger and Packer fan, although she does support the Caps in hockey. She enjoys Formula 1 and Indycar. She likes the eastern seaboard but does miss track days with friends and family at Elkhart Lake and the Milwaukee Mile. Her favorite drivers are Kenny Brack and Robby Gordon.
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A Hearty Ina Garten Recipe for Winter Dinners

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

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Day 1: I Had a Bad Day, So I Decided to Roast Something

Day 2: How I’ll Make a Brussels Sprouts Believer Outta You!

Day 3: Is that a Geoduck or a Parsnip?

Pasta is HANDS DOWN my favorite food. (runner ups are sour gummy worms, which is hardly a food, and steak.)

I decided to take a break from meat as a main course and serve up some delicious pasta!  Today’s recipe is Ina Garten’s “Straw and Hay with Gorgonzola.”

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 ounces prosciutto, cut crosswise in ½-inch-thick matchsticks

1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 large)

1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)

1 ½ cups heavy cream

4 ounces Italian Gorgonzola dolce, crumbled

1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

8-10 ounces tagliatelle or fettuccine

2 cups frozen peas, defrosted

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup julienned fresh basil leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt

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Forecast for House of Cards Season 2: Stormy with a Chance of Homicide

Saturday, January 25th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

Remember House of Cards? Well, lucky fans, season 2 will premiere on Netflix on Valentine’s Day 2014. I know, such a sweet holiday for such a sweet show! *Snort*

You may recall that I closed my series on season 1 with a few predictions for season 2. (Click here to read the original article.) After watching the trailer for the upcoming season, I  decided that I needed to make a few more. Like season 1, season 2 is going to be brutal and people are likely to get whacked by the Underwood Power machine. I decided to take a leaf out of Beatrix Kiddo’s book and write my own “Death List Five” for season 2.  My “Death List” is composed of the characters that, in my opinion, are most likely to end up dead by the final episode.  I am open to suggestions.

Becky’s Death List Five:

1. AN ANNOYING OBSTACLE: Mr. Raymond Tusk

After watching the trailer, it looks like this man is going to find himself in Frank’s cross-hairs.  Nobody comes between Frank and power.

Being BFFs with the President might make him seem untouchable, but nobody says “no” to Doug Stamper… there might be an unfortunate chain-saw accident on Tusk’s property.  You just never know…

2. KARMA SUCKS: Zoe Barnes

One of my fellow, HoC watchers submitted Zoe as a possible dead body for season 2.  They argued that “there was no way she could walk away from Frank (alive) after being in so deep.”

I could be persuaded to agree.

3. NICE BUT NOT A PIVOTAL CHARACTER: Lucas Goodwin

Lucas is a likable character, but with Janine as Zoe’s other sounding board and accomplice in “Operation Sink Underwood,” it wouldn’t be too upsetting to the plot if Lucas kicked the bucket. We all know the writers like to keep things interesting…

Would Zoe even bat an eyelash? Meh, maybe.

4. DANGEROUS WITH A PEN: Janine Skorsky

I think Janine is fairly likely to die because she is a) a nosy, outspoken journalist, b) already on Stamper’s radar, and c) underestimates the bad guys she is trying to expose.

Stamper and Underwood wouldn’t allow her to live long enough to write a juicy, tell-all story…

5.  LOOSE ENDS GET SNIPPED: Rachel Posner

Of all the characters, I think Rachel is the most likely to end up dead.  The trailer shows Rachel brandishing a butcher knife in front of Stamper (or, at least, it looks like Rachel). This might be a sneak peek of Rachel’s demise. Rachel is what Stamper calls “a loose end”–and we all know Stamper’s track record when it comes to cleaning up loose ends…

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Repurposing a Plethora of Parsley

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

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I rediscovered a cookbook in my kitchen (The Top 100 Quick and Easy Sauces) on sauces that has become my “go-to” for using up herbs and extra ingredients from my Ina Garten cooking journey. I thought I would share a few of these easy recipes with you in the coming weeks.  Cooking motto: waste not.

If you are like me and bought a large bundle of parsley for cooking and now find yourself wondering what to do with the excess, look no further.  Here is a easy and versatile recipe for those extra bunches of parsley.

“Parsley Sauce”

(Serves 4)

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1 ¼ cups milk

2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley

freshly ground pepper

salt

TOOLS

Saucepan

Whisk

Spoon

Measuring cups

Measuring spoons

Cutting board

Knife (for chopping)

DIRECTIONS

  • To begin, chop up that parsley!  Set aside.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
  • Add the flour and stir for one minute.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heat and gradually whisk in the milk.
  • Return the pan to the stove and bring to a boil.  Continue to stir/whisk the sauce until it is smooth and thick.
  • Lower the temperature and simmer the sauce for 2-3 minutes. Stir continuously.
  • Stir in the parsley and season with the salt and pepper to taste.

This book suggests that you serve this sauce on cod, haddock, baked ham, fava beans, or spinach.  I poured it over a bowl of pasta.  It was light, simple, and delicious.  (I’m going to try it on tilapia tonight!)

Enjoy!

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In 15 Photos: The Capital’s First Snow Day of 2014

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 was the first snow day for Washington, D.C. in the new year.  Instead of working, District residents documented the winter wonderland:

You should be able to the Washington Monument in this...❄️❄️❄️#snowday #washingtondc

#Whisky #havanese #snowday #snow #dc #washingtondc #washington #capitolhill #hilleast #doginsnow #dogs

By the Capitol Reflecting Pool #igdc #igersdc #instantdc #washingtondc #dc #igersdcmetro #bw #blackandwhite #monochrome #bnw_society #snowgram

Drinks with good company! #washingtondc #dc #winter #snowday

Snowy dome at #uscapitol. #capitolhill #dc #washingtondc

This came out kind of cool. #frozen #washingtondc #monument #fuckthissnow

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Is that a Geoduck or a Parsnip?

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

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Day 1: I Had a Bad Day, So I Decided to Roast Something

Day 2: How I’ll Make a Brussels Sprouts Believer Outta You!

I meandered into the “sides” section of Ina’s cookbook again.  Maybe it was the bright colors in the photograph or the fact that I like the color orange…whatever it was, I chose “orange-braised carrots and parsnips” for today’s recipe.

1 pound carrots with the greens attached

1 pound thin parsnips

1/3 cup small-diced shallots (1 large)

2 teaspoon grated orange zest

1 ¼ cups freshly squeezed orange juice (or bottled juice)

1/3 cup good olive oil

6 springs fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string

pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

kosher salt and black pepper

2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

My first thought when I began reading this recipe was, do I even know what a parsnip looks like?  Nope. I didn’t.  I only found them at the grocery store after reading all of the tiny labels in the veggie section. Even then, I thought it was mislabeled because it looked like a geoduck!

This was my first time cooking with geoduck, er, I mean parsnips.  Welcome to the club if this is also your first time!  (They turned out to be very tasty.)

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#WashingtonDC: Moments of Beauty Chronicled by Instagram

Thursday, January 16th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

Washington, D.C. isn’t everyone’s favorite town….but you have to admit it is beautiful.

Here are some Instagrams of our picturesque capital, Washington, D.C. (most were taken in the last 24 hours).

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How I’ll Make a Brussels Sprouts Believer Outta You!

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

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Before I begin my recipes, yes there are two today, I want to mention that it took me five solid days to eat all of that round roast from recipe one. However, I never got bored with it (so please don’t be afraid of Ina’s bigger recipes)!  I used thin slices of beef on sandwiches, sautéed pieces and tossed them with pasta, and even chopped up and sautéed beef with chilies and eggs. But enough with the versatility of beef. Today’s main dish is CHICKEN.

I selected Ina’s “Crispy Mustard-Roasted Chicken” because it allowed me to use up the older chicken breasts and thighs that were chilling in my freezer.

***

4 garlic cloves

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups panko bread flakes

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)

2 tablespoons good olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

½ cup Dijon mustard

½ cup dry white wine

1 (3/12-4lb) chicken, cut in eights  (Becky used chicken breasts, thighs—all the misc. chicken in the freezer)

 ***

First, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees.

I really wanted to use my new mixing bowls, so, although the recipe called for the minced garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, bread crumbs (I used 1 cup regular and 1 cup panko), lemon zest, olive oil, and butter to be combined in a bowl and then poured out on a plate, I just threw it all in a medium-sized mixing bowl. (No reason to dirty a bowl and then a plate).

In a separate, smaller bowl, I combined the white wine and mustard.  I used honey Dijon (I know, I finally found it after needing it last week!), oh well.

When breading something (like chicken pieces), usually the ENTIRE piece of meat is covered in the breadcrumb mixture.  Not this recipe—so here’s the twist:

Dip the entire piece of chicken in the mustard-wine mixture, but only cover one side with the breadcrumbs.  Then, lay the chicken breadcrumb-side up on the baking sheet.**

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  Then, turn the heat up to 400 degrees and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove and cover with foil until ready to eat!

Now, on to the side dish!

**I tried to use of the rest of my breadcrumbs by adding them to any exposed areas on the chicken but I ended up having a lot left over.  Since there was no egg used in the process that could have “tainted” the breadcrumbs during the dipping, I decided to save the remaining breadcrumbs.  (I Tupperwared them up and put them in the refrigerator.)

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Your Feel-Good Youtube Video for Thursday

Thursday, January 9th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner
YouTube Preview Image

This video titled “Uncle Henry Gets Surprised on Christmas” has only been online for a few days.  It already has more than 2 million views.  Why?  Because it’s a feel-good video that will probably make you tear-up and laugh.  (Humans secretly love losing control of their tear ducts in a surge of compassion and happiness.)

Watch Henry unwrap his Christmas gift and demonstrate what true happiness and appreciation look like.  This video gets me every time.

I hope you enjoy.

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I Had a Bad Day, So I Decided to Roast Something

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

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Day 1 of my Ina Garten Cookbook Journey.  I am using Ina’s “foolproof” book (it’s purple if that helps).  Today was a record-breaking, freezing-cold day and I was in the mood for something warm and filling.  This afternoon was a little rough, so I was definitely in the mood to ROAST something.

The recipe of the day ended up being “slow-roasted filet of beef with basil Parmesan mayonnaise.”

***

1 whole filet of beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied (4 ½ pounds)

3 tablespoons good olive oil

4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

10 to 15 branches fresh tarragon

Basil Parmesan mayonnaise (see below)

***

Now, I don’t think I have ever followed a recipe (as written) in my life and I definitely started off this cooking journey that way.

To begin, I switched out the cut of meat Ina asked for… (Bad, Becky!)

Living in a city and having smaller grocery stores, sometimes you can’t always get the ingredients you want—even if they seem really basic.  The store did not have beef tenderloin yesterday (I know, right?) so I got a bottom round roast (2.73 lbs).  I knew the basil Parmesan sauce would still pair well with round roast (beef is still beef!).

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2014: A 20-Something’s Year of Food, Art, Exercise, Nostalgia, and Giving

Monday, January 6th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

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I was inspired by some of Dave Swindle’s goals for the New Year (and might steal one or two). Here are a few activities I intend to complete, and write about, in 2014:

1. Read more books on national security.

Hey, I find foreign affairs, history, and war fascinating.  I want to know more. I should read more.

2. Cook through a cookbook.

I’m good at the recipes I already know—time to pull a Julie and Julia and teach this dog some new, culinary tricks.  I am going to choose a cookbook by Ina Garten because her recipes are easy, wholesome, and gorgeous (yes, food can be gorgeous).  Wanna follow along?  This could lead to some mouthwatering posts.

3. Copying Dave Swindle by making it a goal to post more “fun stuff” that is apolitical.

Sometimes, we just need to sit back, relax, and enjoy reading, or viewing, a wholesome post.  I would like to do more of this.

4. Run more.

It has probably become obvious from some of my previous posts that I am a jogger—and that I do so around Washington, D.C.  I would like to make it a goal to get out there and run more.  This will probably lead to some “GET UP AND MOVE” motivational posts for those of you who are looking to “be healthier” this year. Maybe I’ll even cave and get a dog to be my running buddy…maybe you should too.

5. Take more pictures (of my jogging adventures around D.C. and the other resolutions I made above).

I went through my photos from the past year—there were very few to even look at.  This might lead to the creation of an Instagram…

6. Fun fact: I used to paint—a lot.

2014 is going to be the year of the paintbrush and stretched canvas. I would also like to bring some Art talk to PJ Media.  Any interest?

7. Complete Random Acts of Kindness.

I love Christmas and that contagious, happy, “Christmas spirit” that you feel around the holidays.  However, our generosity and “do good” attitude shouldn’t end after a certain date—we should give all year round.  I completed a few “random acts of kindness” around Christmas 2013, but I would like to continue doing these little things in the New Year.

8. Reread books from my childhood and research my favorite children’s book authors/illustrators and their creative process…and maybe write a book of my own.

I bought a stack of my favorite children’s books for my little brother, Julian, this past Christmas. (Where the Wild Things Are, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie—just to name a few). Before I wrapped them, I read all of them over again.  I have always been in awe of writers and how they come up with ideas for books–and then bring them to life through words and pictures. I would like to explore some of the “greats” of children’s literature this year and learn more about the men and women who have written some of my (maybe our) favorites. I am hoping that this will provide some inspiration that will jump start my own creative process for a kid’s book.

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1 Partridge in a Pear Tree: Last-minute Stocking Stuffers

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Today is Tuesday, December 24, 2013—Christmas Eve.  If we were having a literal countdown of the “Twelve days of Christmas” song, we would receive “one partridge in a pear tree” today.

Christmas is tomorrow…

Here are some last-minute stocking-stuffer gift ideas:

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Men:

Socks: Kirkland Merino Wool Blend Socks

Cuff links:  Ion-Plated Stainless Steel and Carbon Fiber Cuff Links

Wallet: Calvin Klein Mens Bifold Black Wallet

Scarf: John Hanly & Co. Irish Lambswool Scarf

 

31QVdSuZbfL._SY395_Women:

Wrap: Paisley Jacquard Pashmina Wrap

Ear Warmers: 180’s Tahoe Komen Ear Warmers

Earrings: 14K Yellow Gold Ball Stud Earrings (4mm)

iPhone Case: OtterBox iPhone 5 Defender Series Case

 

71HUB2F43lL._SL1500_Kids:

Games: Bananagrams

Hat: Critter Cap Plush Wolf Hat

Movie: Despicable Me 2 DVD

Slingshot: Flingshot Slingshot Flying Screaming Monkey

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2 Turtle Doves: A Gift Guide for the Tech-Savvy

Monday, December 23rd, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Today is Monday, December 23, 2013.  If we were having a literal countdown of the “Twelve days of Christmas” song, we would receive “two turtle doves” today.

There are only two days until Christmas!

Here is a gift guide for the people on your list who love electronics and gadgets.

61lYpytqmXL._SL1500_Audio:

Bose:  QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

The best way to hear your music—without any interference.

HDMX: Classic Bluetooth Wireless Speaker

Connect this handy speaker to your Bluetooth-enabled device whenever you want to listen to music–at home, at work, and even on the beach!

full_GoPro_HD_Hero_3_357728Cameras:

Canon: Canon PowerShot A2500 16 MP Digital Camera

This camera’s 2.7-in LCD screen makes photo and video review/playback clear and easy.

GoPro: GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition

A tough, waterproof camera that allows even the most active owners to document their adventures.

Gadgets for the Car:

Belkin: 2-Port Car Charger with Lightning to USB Cable for iPhone 5/5S/iPod touch/iPod nano/iPad/iPad mini

This charger fits into any car power outlet and will charge two devices at once.

Garmin: Garmin Nüvi

Never get lost again.

Kids:

Leapfrog: LeapPad2 Power Learning Tablet

Over 800+ games, videos, and eBooks that are appropriate for kids.

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Phone:

OtterBox: Commuter Series Case for Samsung Galaxy S III

A durable case that will keep your S3 safe!

 

 

 

61URCnA-MtL._SL1500_Photos:

NIX Digital: 8 in Hi-Res Digital Photo Frame with Motion Sensor

All your photos in one place.

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3 French Hens: A Gift Guide for the Bookworms

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Today is Sunday, December 22, 2013.  If we were having a literal countdown of the “Twelve days of Christmas” song, we would receive “three French hens” today.

There are only three days until Christmas!

Here is a gift guide for some of the book-lovers on your list:

619RpdGjmwLFor Kids and Young Adults:

Dewdney: Llama Llama and the Bully Goat

A book about identifying and forgiving bullies.

Dahl: Roald Dahl 15-book box set

The classics you grew up with, all in one place.  A great gift for kids and adults.

Carle: Friends

Another great book by Eric Carle—this one focuses on the power of friendship.

Bemelmans: Madeline

Your favorite little girls in two straight lines.

Pilkey: The New Captain Underpants Collection

Perfect for kids who are stubborn when it comes to reading.  These books are sure to get them reading—and laughing.

Montgomery: The Complete Anne of Green Gables Set

A must-read for young ladies.  I cannot recommend these books enough.

Herriot: The Complete Box Set by James Herriot

James Herriot, a veterinary surgeon, writes about his animal adventures in Yorkshire England before, during, and after WWII.  You’ll laugh, cry, and love these books.

Roth: Divergent Series Complete Box Set

A fresh, compelling twist on the popular “dystopia” theme.

the-reason-i-jumpFor Adults:

Gladwell: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

Another thought-provoking book by Malcolm Gladwell.

Higashida: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism

A fascinating journey with teenager, Naoki, as he explains autism in his own words.

Stein: The Art of Racing in the Rain

A touching book told from the canine perspective.

Martin: A Game of Thrones 5-Book Boxed Set

It’s not just for young adults–read the books that everyone is talking about.

Ambrose: Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normany to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest

An amazing story of American courage during WWII.

Hirsi Ali: Infidel

A gripping, eye-opening autobiography of a courageous woman who fought back against tradition.

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4 Colly Birds: A Gift Guide for the Hardcore Home Decorators

Saturday, December 21st, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Today is Saturday, December 21, 2013.  If this were a literal countdown of the “Twelve days of Christmas” song, we would receive “four colly birds” today. (A “colly bird” is a common blackbird, FYI.)

There are only four days until Christmas! (You shopping procrastinators really better get a move on…)

Here is a gift guide for the interior decorators and home-goods lovers on your list:

61BuWtKiv0L._SL1500_Home Decor:

Vase: Abbott Ceramic Owl Vase

A quirky but unique way to display flowers.

Frame: J Devlin Photo Frame with Vintage Glass and Wire

An elegant way for photo-lovers to display their precious pictures.

Art Glass: Galaxy Art Color Swirl Glass Vase

A beautiful piece that can be used as a vase or appreciated as art.

Candle Sticks: IMAX Kanan Wood Candleholders

These varied candlestick sets are all the rage.  Versatile and easy to arrange and restyle for the seasons

Christmas Nativity Set: Willow Tree Nativity Set

Remind friends and family of the true meaning of Christmas.  This elegant gift will soon become a favorite holiday decoration.

Blankets and Throws: Ultimate Sherpa Throw Blanket

Give the gift of toasty toes with this posh, sherpa throw.

Candle-holder: Moroccan Lantern Blue Glass Candle Holder

A unique gift for the candle-lover.

Storage: Anchor Hocking Heritage Hill Glass 1-Gallon Jar

An empty canvas for savvy decorators.  This jar can be used for practical means (kitchen dry goods) or as a container to display ornaments or other small goods throughout the house.

Casual Pillows: Ojia Cotton Linen Decorative Pillow Covers

Spread the love with these swappable pillow covers.

Fancy Pillows: DreamHome-100% Silk Designer Pillow Cover

Great for entertainers who like their couches to be as festive as the rest of their home.

51Sr6mIpLCLKitchen and Dining:

Wine: Oenophilia Bottle Stopper Bouquet

Perfect for the wine connoisseur in your family.

Wine Glasses: Libbey Vina 12-piece stemless red and white wine glasses

A twist on the “wine glass.”

Chargers: Old Dutch Round Décor Copper Charger Plate

A snazzy, decorating essential for people who like to spice up their traditional china.

Classic Runner: Handmade Classic Hemstitch Natural Table Runner

Simple, classic, and perfect for everyday use or special events.

Luxe Runner: Artiwa Burnt Orange and Brown Silk Decorative Table Runner

A great gift for the artsy home decorator.

Placemats: Reversible Hand-Stitched Organza Placemat

Perfect for those who love throwing formal dinners.

Napkin Rings: Round Mesh Napkin Rings

A little rustic, with a pinch of glam, these napkin rings are sure to be a great addition to any table.

Tablecloths: Roseberry Linen Concerto Spill-Proof Tablecloth

Yes, you read correctly. This tablecloth is spill-proof!  Meticulous decorators won’t have to worry about pesky stains ruining their linen!

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5 Golden Rings: A Gift Guide for the Crafty and Artistic

Friday, December 20th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Today is Friday, December 20, 2013.  If we were counting down the “Twelve days of Christmas” song, we would receive “five golden rings” today.

There are only five days until Christmas!

Here is a gift guide for some of the most creative people on your list!

51zQo1g-qGLThe Painters and Sketchers:

Drawing Paper: Strathmore 400 Series Drawing Paper Pad

When creativity hits, you can never have enough of these pads.

Watercolor Paper: Strathmore 300 Series Watercolor Paper

Essential for any water-colorist.

Acrylic Paints: Golden Heavy Body Acrylic Introductory Set

I personally recommend these paints. They are a little pricey, but they are smooth and high-quality.

Mediums: Golden Introductory Gel Mediums and Modeling Pastes Set

Great intro set for painters seeking to add dimension or texture to their work. I highly recommend these mediums.

Brushes: Royal Langnickel Gold Taklon Brush Set

A brush pack that is compatible with any type of paint.

Watercolor Pencils:  Staedtler Karat Aquarell Premium Watercolor Pencils

A new twist on watercolors!

5573351The Quilters, Sewers, and Knitters:

Essential Pattern Book: Complete Dictionary of Essential Stitch Patterns

400 patterns for advanced and beginner knitters.

Stitch Counter: Clover Knitting Stitch Counter

This gizmo will keep you on track.

Hat Pattern Book: 15 Animal Hat Patterns to Knit

Keep your head warm with a hand-knit hat!

Mats: Alvin Professional Cutting Mats

Double-sided and suitable for all types of blades.

Cutting: OLFA Ergonomic Rotary Cutter

Equipped to handle your heavy-duty projects.  It’s also suitable for both Left and Right-handed people.

51E7aMK1cdLKits for Crafty Kids:

Beads: Melissa and Doug Bead Bouquet

220 wooden beads that are easy to string.

Beginning Sewing: Singer Beginners Sewing Kit

All the basics for sewing-newbies in one kit!

Spool-knit Animals: Colorbok Spool Knit Critters Kit

A cute and easy craft for kids.

Skrinky-Dinks: Do-it-Yourself Wear! Shrinky Dink Kit

Pre-cut shapes, magnets, colored pencils, and key-chains are all included in this fun, retro activity kit.

Sewing Craft: Creativity for Kids Sew a Sock Kitty

Great craft for young, beginner sewers.  (Kit includes EVERYTHING you will need)

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6 Geese a Laying: A Gift Guide for Little Tikes and Young Kids

Thursday, December 19th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Today is Thursday, December 19, 2013.  If this we were using the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song as a countdown, today we would receive “six geese a laying.”

There are only six days until Christmas!

Here is a gift guide for the precious nephews, nieces, sons, and daughters on your list.

250px-GoodnightmoonThe Babies:

Jumper: Baby Einstein Musical Motion Activity Jumper

Let babies explore colors, shapes, and sounds while bouncing

Story time: Goodnight Moon Book

A classic book that should grace every baby’s nursery shelf.

Bedtime: Graco Sweet Slumber Sound Machine

Soothe baby to sleep with 12 different sounds and a nightlight.

mouseThe Toddlers:

Scooter: Prince Lionheart Wheely Bug (Mouse)

An adorable array of animals that your toddler can easily ride.

Plush: Despicable Me 2 Minion Stuart Plush

A cute plush for Gru and Minion fans.

Spinning Fun: Playskool Sit ‘n Spin

Hours of spinning, whirling, and twirling.

img_molly_01The School-age Kids:

Versatile Animals: Jungle Animals Set of 60

Great in the bath or “on land,” these toys are perfect for kids who love animals and using their imagination.

Cars: Hot Wheels 20 Car Gift Pack

Treat your kid to a fleet of muscle and classic cars

Classic Dolls: American Girl Molly Doll and Paperback Book

One of the original, hit “American Girl Dolls,” Molly McIntire and her adventure books are sure to please any young lady.

Race Tracks: Hot Wheels Triple Track Twister Track Set

For the little speed demon in your family.

Building Blocks: LEGO Ultimate Building Set

Perfect for LEGO aficionados and newbies.

Barbie Dolls: Barbie 3-Story Dream Townhouse

If the kids on your list love Barbie, they’ll love this dream house (it even has an elevator!)

Model Building: K’NEX Classics 50 Model Building Set

Comes with 700 pieces and directions for 50 building ideas.

Bow and Arrow—with a Twist: Bow & Mallow Marshmallow Shooter

Wage battle with marshmallows!  Kids (and adults) will love this gift.

FileHippo-IndigestionGames:

Fruity Fun: Apples to Apples Party Box

If someone you know does not yet have this game, this is a “must” gift.

Candy lover: Candy Land—The Kingdom of Sweets Board Game

Who doesn’t love a good game of Candy Land?

Famished Animals: Hungry Hungry Hippos

Another must have game for the game closet.

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7 Swans a Swimming: A Gift Guide for the Nature Lovers

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Today is Wednesday, December 18, 2013.  If the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song was a countdown, today we would receive “seven swans a swimming.”

There are only seven days until Christmas!

Today’s gift guide is for the outdoorsman/woman in your life.

fmhunter1The Cozy-Factor:

Classic Jacket for Him: North Face Apex Bionic Soft Shell Jacket

100% windproof, warm, but not bulky.

Cozy Jacket for Her: North Face Denali Fleece

A great fleece that will keep her warm with or without other layers.

Base Layer: Under Armour Infrared Hood

For the outdoor adventurer who likes to push the limits of frostbite.

The Hot Hot Headband: Knit Winter Headband Ear Warmer

These headbands are all the rage.  They’re cute, come in many colors, and are a good alternative for hat-haters.

Smart and Warm Fingers: Isotoner Smartouch Matrix Glove

Keep fingers warm while using your Smartphone or tablet. (Here is the same gloves for manly man hands.)

Rainy Days, Warm Toes: Women’s Original Hunter Tall Welly Rubber Boot

Perfect for splashing in puddles or wading through winter slush.

81qK9eA7NUS._SL1500_The Helpful Gadgets:

Handy Bugs: Nite Ize BugLit LED light

A helpful critter to light even the most awkward spaces.

Hands-Free Illumination: Petzl Tikka Headlamp

Great for nighttime hikes.

DeFEETing Ice: Yaktrax Pro Traction Cleats for Snow and Ice

Stay upright this winter.

A Raincoat for your Electronics: Waterproof Pouch Case for Smartphone

Keep your precious phone dry while out skiing, ice-fishing, or hiking.

Swiss-made: Victorinox Swiss Army Swiss Champ Pocket Knife

Thirty-two tools.

tubbs_w_couloir_08The Other Fun Stuff:

Walk on Snow: Tubb’s Men’s Wilderness Showshoe

Great snowshoes for both experienced and novice showshoers. (Women’s Tubbs can be found here)

Ammo Storage: Plano Ammo Can (Field Box)

House your ammo and/or gun accessories in one place.

Old-School Fun: Trumark Slingshot

Unexpected but sure to put a devilish smile on their face.

For the Good Ole’ H2O: Nalgene BPA Free Tritan Wide Mouth Water Bottle

Dishwasher safe. Suitable for both hot and cold liquids.  Shatter Resistant.

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8 Maids a Milking: A Gift Guide for the Bakers, Bartenders, and Chefs

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Today is Tuesday, December 17, 2013.  The reverse “Twelve Days of Christmas” countdown indicates that we would receive “eight maids a milking” today.

This means that there are only eight days until Christmas!

Today’s gift guide is for the people on your list who are so in love with preparing food and entertaining that their blender has a name.  These gifts are sure to serve up some joy–as well as delicious dishes!

img81oFor The Frequent Baker and/or Adventurous Cook:

Scoop it: Le Creuset Silicone 7-Piece Utensil Set

Besides the ingredients and the will, every good chef needs the proper tools.

Prep it: Joseph Joseph Nest 9-piece Compact Food Prep Set

One can never have enough prep bowls. Joseph Joseph’s design allows all 9 pieces to be nested together for maximum use of space.  The brightly colored bowls are also a fun addition to any kitchen.

Slice it: OXO Good Grips Hand-Held Mandoline Slicer

Slice your ingredients ultra thin without cutting yourself.

(Don’t) Cut it: Cut Resistant Gloves (Level 5 Protection)

Keep your fingers safe while you chop.

Roast it: Stoneware 6-Piece 8oz Mini Cocotte Set with Cookbook

From molten-brownie desserts to mini pot pies, you can’t go wrong with this set of bright, durable stoneware.

Stew it: Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-iron Round French Oven

The infamous Le Creuset “dutch oven” is a kitchen classic and cookware essential.

Bake it: Doughmakers Grand Cookie Sheet

No burnt cookies! (I can say by experience that these really are the best.)

cuisinart_griddler_350For the Kitchen-Gadget and Appliance Lover:

Read it: ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer

Pen-sized. Digital. Easy to read

Whip it: Ozeri Deluz Milk Frother and Whisk (with 4 frothing attachments)

Froth milk, beat eggs, and whip dressings and sauces galore!

Grill it: Cuisinart 5-in-1 Griddler

This compact, counter-top grill has five functions: contact grill, panini press, full grill, full griddle, and half grill/half griddle.  The plates are even dishwasher safe.

cocktailFor The Bartender:

Whiskey: Sipping Stones—Set of Grey Whisky Chilling Rocks

Keep your whisky cold in style!

Martini: Stainless Steel and Pewter Martini Picks

Serve your guests martinis with a side of fun.

Wine: Fred Wine Line Reviews Wine Glass Markers

A quirky way to personalize your glass of wine.

“How to” Cocktails: Architecture of the Cocktail: Constructing the Perfect Cocktail from the Bottom Up

Impress your boss, friends, and family by making cocktails the RIGHT way.

Liquor: Visol “Raven” Stainless Steel Flask and Gift Set

A handsome way to carry your clandestine liquor.

Bottle Opener: Vertical Rabbit Lever Style Corkscrew with Foil Cutter

Opening wine has never been easier.

latte-tableFor the Caffeine Lover:

Espresso: Nespresso Essenza C91 Manual Espresso Maker

This espresso maker is compact and simple to use.  The Nespresso brand also has a great “menu” of espressos to choose from that fit your machine.

Tea: Kikkerland Robot Tea Infuser and Drip Tray

Who can resist this adorable robot?

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9 Ladies Dancing: A Gift Guide for the Kings and Queens of Beauty Products

Monday, December 16th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Today is Monday, December 16, 2013.  If we were having a literal, backwards countdown of the “Twelve days of Christmas,” we would all receive “nine ladies dancing” today. Newsflash, there are only nine days until Christmas!

Shopping procrastinators, overwhelmed list-makers, and confused uncles and aunts, listen up.  Although there is one fewer weekend in December this year, and Christmas shopping is sure to be even more hectic than usual, there is still a way to keep your sanity in tact!

Take back some Christmas peace and quiet and make your shopping painless. Here is a gift guide chock-full of holiday cheer and guaranteed smiles for some of the people on your list:

The Beauty Queen/Well-Groomed Man

For that person in your life who loves all things beauty and grooming—from head to toe!

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For The Ladies:

Skin: Clarisonic Mia Skin Cleansing System

Beauty aficionados know that beauty starts with healthy, glowing skin.  (This is also a good gift for the males who love a deep clean, skin deep.)

Nails: London Butter Nail Polish Set

High-end, high-pigment nail color that is sure to make their fingers and toes sparkle.

Make-up: Bare Minerals Starter Kit

Bare Minerals powder system has good coverage–but without the thick, goopy foundation mess. This is a good starter kit for those who are curious about the “mineral powder craze” or want to try something new!

Lips: Frola Cosmetics Professional 66-Color Lip Gloss Palette

So many color options, so few days of the week!

Hair: Moroccan Oil Hair Treatment

This stuff really is a miracle worker—smooth on wet or dry hair for a silky smooth finish and frizz control. (Also available for curly hair)
For The Gentlemen:

Shaving (Manual): The Art of Shaving Starter Kit

The lucky person on your list who receives this gift is sure to become addicted to the products. My male friends especially rave about the “sandalwood” scent kit.

Shaving (Electric): Philips Norelco SensoTouch 3D

This bad-boy came highly recommended by the gadget gurus.

Cleansing for the traveling man: Men’s Jack Black Cleansing System

All the essentials for face, hair, and body and it’s great for frequent travelers who need to take better care of themselves.

Men’s Face Mask: Baxter of California Clarifying Clay Face Mask

Purify and invigorate your mug. You can’t go wrong with Baxter of California.

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What Is to Blame for Paul Walker and Roger Rodas’ Car Crash?

Monday, December 2nd, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

paul-walker-died-alongside-former-racer-roger-rodas

Actor Paul Walker and racer Roger Rodas are dead. The cherry-red Porsche Carrera GT they were in on Saturday is now a burned-out carcass.

The link between Walker in The Fast and the Furious series and the manner of his death is of course ironic, thus feeding the news frenzy. His claim to fame was portraying an illegal street racer. He broke the rules and lived on speed.

In real life, he was a 40-year-old dad and car enthusiast. He died in a car driven by Rodas, a racing buddy and personal friend. Rodas was an experienced race car driver, but something went horribly wrong.

Humans seek truth. We want to know why. We want to know how. We investigate and piece together clues in hopes of solving mysteries, allowing ourselves to sleep better at night. In this case, two men paid with their lives and we are wondering whom, or what, we can blame.

Joy-riding and Human Error?

Some articles on the fiery crash are suggesting that the existence of rubber around the crash scene indicates that Rodas and Walker were doing doughnuts and that goofing off might have led to the crash. The local sheriffs have also stated that they believe “high speeds” were also a factor.

I am uneasy with the quick assumption that idiocy was to blame (especially since the existence of rubber in figure 8 patterns still seems unconfirmed). We don’t know the cause yet. The car may have failed! Something snaps, something else bursts, and there go the brakes. Even the best drivers are sometimes no match for velocity + a stationary object.

Legendary driver Ayrton Senna was probably one of the best F1 drivers to live and he was killed in his race car. It is believed that his car’s suspension failed and pieces hit his helmet. His visor was also punctured—possibly by a tie rod. Even thought he was one of the greatest drivers, there was nothing he could do to save himself.  In the end, he died doing what he loved.

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A Historic Ford Mustang Returns

Thursday, November 14th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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One of the things I love about aimless wandering (both on foot and behind the steering wheel) is that you never know what you might see.  In my case, I’m always on the lookout for cool cars.  Maybe it’s a candy-apple red Alfa Romeo Spider, slumbering quietly on the street. Tucked in among the autumn leaves, most pedestrians pass it not even knowing what it is.  You wonder who owns it.  Perhaps it’s an old-school Ferrari on the freeway, breaking the speed limit, or an ancient Land Rover Defender that you frequently spot chugging around town.  You might be unable to distinguish between the cracks giving away its age and the scrapes broadcasting its adventures, but nonetheless, it definitely has a few tales to tell.

Cars are great storytellers as well as the subjects of great stories. Car enthusiasts and gear heads love a good car sighting or find—in a barn, in a garage, on the street… They remind one of simpler times when feeling the wind through your hair was all that was required to live. You never know what is lurking in the garage of the most unassuming house…

It seems that yet another great tale of an unknown, history-laden car has just been revealed in Chicago, IL.

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How to Make 100 Girls Happy: 4 Lessons Greek Life Taught Me About Leadership and Humility

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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Part 1: 4 Ways Being a Sorority Girl Prepared Me for the Real World

Part 2: Debunking the Sorority and Fraternity Myth: It’s all “Greek” to you

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A lot of marketing slogans state that “bigger is better” and to most national fraternity/sorority headquarters, bigger is better because it indicates a healthy chapter with enthusiastic members.  My sorority chapter was quite large for the relatively small size of our school but we didn’t always think bigger was better.

Yes, having an increasing number of members was necessary for chapter survival but it wasn’t so awesome when it came to decision making, planning, and leading. How does one plan anything when there are 100+ opinions to take into account?  How does a chapter president and her small council lead such a gregarious group of women?

Very carefully.

In a chapter everyone is equal, thus, you can’t just “pull rank” and make a decision. Leading a unique, opinionated group of intelligent women through the hurdles of college life is hard and you learn a lot about working with others and yourself.

Some of these lessons were as basic as learning when to say you were sorry and actually doing it. Others forced you to smile in the face of tragedy, put on a brave face, and lead a community in mourning. Many of these lessons can be learned in a multitude of organizations—girl/boy scouts, 4-H, and internships (as many of you, readers, have pointed out)—but sororities challenged you even further by forcing you to work and live with hundreds of women that were different from you. Sororities and fraternities are fiefdoms of a great empire—and they are small businesses. The men and women who took the process of running one seriously came out of the experience different people—more mature, more balanced, and better-equipped leaders. Here are some of the lessons we learned from a few years in Greek Life.

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Washington, D.C.’s ‘Super Zip Codes’

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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The Washington Post is all about maps this week. First it was the “Eleven American Nations,” and now we have been introduced to “super zips,” the wealthiest and most educated zip codes in the United States—many of which are crowded around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

This article seems to be moderately concerned with the future of Washington, D.C.—that the super-zips surrounding the nation’s capitol have created a “buffer” zone, insulating their wealthy, highly-educated residents from socioeconomic classes lower down the totem pole.

“Zip codes are large swaths of territory, and people from many different walks of life live in them. But many Washington neighborhoods are becoming more economically homogenous as longtime homeowners move out and increasing housing prices prevent the less affluent from moving in. The eventual result, in many cases, is a Super Zip. And because the contiguous Super Zips are surrounded by areas that are almost as well-off, it’s possible to live in a Super Zip and rarely encounter others without college degrees or professional jobs.”

William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institute referred to Washington as a “megalopolis of eggheads”–

“Washington is an example of how the country is compartmentalizing itself into clusters of people with different backgrounds and world views.  It’s a magnet for people who grew up elsewhere and came here because they want to be in a place that has an atmosphere of intellectual curiosity. But it means we’re somewhat isolated. A lot of people here may study and advocate for what’s going on in the rest of the country, but they can’t feel what’s going on if it doesn’t touch them.”

I don’t pretend to defend the idea that parts of Washington, D.C. are disconnected with the outside world and I understand that the contents of this study and article could be the cherry on top of the “Washington disconnect” narrative.  However, a very broad generalization has been made about the people living and working around Washington, D.C.  I don’t think it’s fair to paint D.C. professionals with such a broad stroke–especially one that is based solely on zip code or number of graduate degrees.

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Richest Americans Are Going ‘Conservative’ with Car Purchases

Thursday, November 7th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

Exotic_Car_Run

Millionaire pop stars, professional athletes, and reality TV darlings may show off their exotic luxury vehicles and souped-up SUVs in tabloids and on TV but America’s richest aren’t interested in those types of cars. The Wall Street Journal posted an article on MarketWatch identifying some of the most popular cars in the wealthiest U.S. neighborhoods.  Clue: it’s not what you think.

Some of the top cars that America’s richest are purchasing are sure to surprise you–they definitely surprised me…

They’re buying WHAT?

The American Classic: Jeep Grand Cherokee

Why it’s surprising:

According to MarketWatch, the Cherokee is extremely popular in posh beach communities.  This is an American classic, yet not what you would expect the 1% to be driving into their heated 4-car garages.  With a price tag starting at $28k, this is an extremely conservative car purchase for the uber-rich.  (The Wrangler was also popular in these communities.)

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Why it’s surprising:

This is the new kid on the luxury block–and it starts at only $36k.  (It’s okay if you did a double take between the name “Mercedes-Benz” and price tag “$36,000.”  Most people do–at the TV commercials, billboards…)  This sedan was created in order to lure younger buyers into becoming Mercedes-Benz-buying lifers.  However, this vehicle isn’t just attracting the younger demographic of uber-rich.  The C-Class also seems to be the “IT” “Sweet 16″ birthday vehicle.  In this case, I’m not sure Mercedes will hook life-time brand buyers, but the swarms of birthday C-classes are, at least, sure to cultivate a taste for luxury in the spoiled teen population.

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