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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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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!

best-of-drugstore-beauty-products-intro-slide

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)
beauty-products-for-menFor 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

old

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

*****

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

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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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Debunking the Sorority and Fraternity Myth—It’s All ‘Greek’ to You

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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

*****

Attitudes about sororities and fraternities are quite polarized—something akin to Congress 2013.  As a member of Greek life, I find this disheartening. However, I am not surprised.

I went to a small, farm town high school and although I found the thought of being part of a sorority interesting I never actually thought I would join one. My only experience with these organizations came from TV shows and movies (which weren’t positive). For example, Legally Blonde showed out-of-touch, Barbie doll Elle Woods leaving her sunny, Californian college in her Porsche to attend Harvard Law School. The purpose wasn’t to study law but to get her bonehead boyfriend back.  She had a good LSAT score but she conned her way into Harvard Law with a pink, perfumed resume and an application tape that showed her wearing a bikini. She loved sparkly things, had a Chihuahua that wore clothes, and talked really fast in a high-pitched voice.  She was Greek.

John Belushi starred in the “classic” film Animal House as a member of the struggling fraternity Delta Tau Chi. The Delta Tau Chis were a band of misfits.  They were in danger of being kicked off campus due to poor grades and overall bad behavior.  They wore togas and made out with any female available.  After a party, they took the mayor’s 13-year old daughter home in a shopping cart.  They were rowdy and stupid. They were Greek.

This is the widespread perception of Greek life. Not only is it inaccurate but it is embarrassing.  Most members of the Greek community grimace when the association is mentioned and the executives at national fraternity headquarters shake their heads.

I honestly didn’t think that my piece last week would stir up such a maelstrom—a simple piece on how some of my generation are lacking in some basic skills, how sorority recruitment can be useful in teaching them, and how this experience can help in a job interview.  I cannot pretend to have any perspective other than the one I have; which is that I went to a little college in a rural town and I joined a sorority because it banished every preconceived notion I had about Greek Life.  I also learned some things.

This article wasn’t crazy stuff but it garnered a lot of comments.  However, most of these were the stuff of Greek life stereotypes—spawned from fictional situations and people in movies. Things that I also used to believe about sororities and fraternities.  However, in my college sorority, I didn’t drive a Porsche or have a Gucci-wearing dog.  I never wore a toga.  Most of us paid our own dues (which covered the mortgage on our house, utilities, and food for the chapter).  Most of us graduated with a job, went on to law school, medical school, or teaching. Nobody joined just to get her “MRS.”  Our sorority wasn’t the most popular or the one that everyone wanted to “get in to.” Our members weren’t all Vogue-model thin, beauty queens, rich, or fit into the made-up “sorority mold.”

What is this “sorority/fraternity mold” anyhow?

It is Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. Someone who is stick thin, rich, and a little annoying.  It is hard-partying John “Bluto” Blutarsky from Animal House. It is scantily-clad girls wearing glitter headbands, forcing younger girls to drink, and subsequently ending up in hospitals with alcohol poisoning. It is fraternity brothers bullying younger members.  This is what Hollywood thinks all sororities and fraternities are like–and this is what most of the public believes.

Sororities and Fraternities are fake, full of superficial people, and are useless money-sucks.

I hear you.

Honestly, some are, but, not all.

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3 Reasons Why Dating is Especially Hard in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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At a recent convening of the “female minds” during a birthday party celebration, I was reminded of the challenges posed by the D.C. dating scene. A fellow friend at this birthday dinner was regaling the group with her predicament: she had to leave the birthday party early for a date.

Normally, this topic is the launching pad for well-wishes, compliments, and giggles. In this case, the poor girl was dreading her impending date. Subsequent conversations with the male in question after agreeing to the date had made her a little wary.  He was cocky and pushy–which made her question if he was interested in anything more than a quick hook-up.  However, she didn’t want to back out of the date 40 minutes before they were supposed to meet up.

We tried to psyche her up. It’s great to meet new people! A night on the town will be fun!

No go. She was all frowns and pessimism as she slid off her stool and collected her coat and purse.

“Why is dating in D.C. so hard?” she asked as she turned for the door.

We all knew from personal experience what she meant, but none of us had an answer…

Washington D.C. is always a nominee for those lists with titles like “worst city for singles” or “worst city for dating.” It’s not surprising, really. Washington, D.C. is not a normal city. Although the representatives of the nation live and work here, The Capital is in a fantasy land of its own, shielded from the real-world by a thick bubble. It makes sense that this removal from reality in the workplace would also translate to the playground. I do know good people who have met, dated, and married people that they met while living in D.C. However, these people seem to be either part of the lucky minority or are D.C.-dating-warriors who persevered after several harrowing attempts.

Here are three reasons why dating in D.C. is particularly difficult:

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The Most Spook-tacular Cars On the Road

Thursday, October 31st, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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Washington, D.C. is ready for Halloween! Row houses have been covered with giant cobwebs, yards scattered with pop-up ghouls, and porches decorated with cleverly carved pumpkins. Our neighbor has a giant arachnid perched above the front door–and when I say “giant,” I mean the spider is half the size of a car. Eek!  Traditional yard and house decorations aside, every once in awhile I see a decorated car (a few pumpkin stickers or a fake bat)– but that’s child’s play compared to some of the die-hard Halloween decorators out there. These die-hard Halloween fans have graduated from the spooky house and yard decorations to the drivable canvases parked in their garages.  Their cars.

I would like to honor these die-hard decorators with an awards ceremony that I’ve created just for them.

Here are the winners of the first annual Automo-BOO-le Awards:

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

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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I was what every freshman girl in college was: new, bright-eyed, and looking for friends.  Although my campus was small (2,100 people total), I wanted to find my niche.  I decided to go through the sorority-recruitment process in order to meet other girls on campus and, hopefully, find a home away from home.  Although recruitment season usually indicates long days, sleepless nights, and over-caffeinated, stressed-out girls, this process does teach life lessons–such as how to be strong in an interview or a good conversationalist.

I know this last sentence sounds preposterous. How could going through the process of recruitment or “rush” to join a “house” of women on a college campus prepare anyone for life? Or a job interview? Or how to carry on a conversation?

Hear me out.

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A Pub Inspired by ‘Hobbitses’, Dragons, and Wizards

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner
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There’s a restaurant named after me? -Bilbo

Do you like beer? Are you excited for the release of the next part of The Hobbit?  Do you like spending evenings in cozy bars? If you said yes to any of these questions, then I suggest you head to Middle Earth-incarnate in Alexandria, VA.

Bilbo Baggins and the Green Dragon Pub. Yes, that is the name of the restaurant and its in-house bar.

Located in Old Town Alexandria, Bilbo Baggins Restaurant is the perfect mix of small-town charm and big city beer selection.

Bilbo Baggins prides itself on its tasty food and unique atmosphere, but its claim to fame is its extensive drink menu in its main-floor bar, the Green Dragon Pub. (The drink menu is 4 pages long in tiny, single-spaced font.)  With over 150 bottles of wine (32 offered by the glass), and 90 or so labels of beer available, The Green Dragon Pub holds up to its beer-soaked, fantasy namesake. Bottom line, Pippin would feel very comfortable here.

After you settle on a beer, peruse the menu. There’s enough meat to satisfy Gimli, salads for Legolas, and a pizza named after Gandalf. In more food-specific jargon, choices range from pasta to salmon and yellow-fin tuna, to salads and steak.  I also recommend the pizzas–Smaug’s Delight is a personal favorite.  (Yes, several of the menu items are named after characters from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.) Very “Hobbity,” I’d say!

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How to Be a Kick-Ass Female Customer at an Auto Repair Shop

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner
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No More “Woe is Me! I Paid too Much!”

I got a text from a friend last week regarding her Volkswagen Jetta: “Why is my oil change going to cost me $98?!”

My reply: “Look it up.”

I never did find out why my friend’s Jetta was quoted for a $98 oil change, but her surprise at the high quote did remind me of an article I read in The Atlantic a few months ago.  This article touched on a study that showed women are sometimes overcharged by auto repair shops.  Apparently, most repair shops believe women know less about cars and repairs and, if they are not proven wrong (by the female customer), they will charge the lady more.

Was my friend getting ripped off because she was female? Perhaps–but also, maybe not.

Obviously, not all repair shops overcharge (women OR men), so don’t get me wrong that I’m hating on my buddies at Pennzoil.  However, it doesn’t hurt to make sure you’re being treated fairly whenever you’re out and about—and especially when you’re taking care of an expensive purchase like a car.  It pays to be informed and to be bold — literally.

Here are some tips:

Own that Auto Shop

Women who defy stereotype come out ahead. — The Atlantic

You’re the customer and you’re in charge of the transaction.  If you don’t like what Business X is telling you, you have the option of leaving and trying your luck someplace else.  When you walk into that waiting room or pull into that garage bay, own it.  You’re here because you want to tune up your car. Don’t act meek. You’re in charge.  Be friendly and strike up a conversation with your attendant.  It doesn’t hurt to make the transaction personal.  If you’re relaxed and friendly, they’re more likely to like you—and probably less likely to tack on an additional $15 to your bill because of your gender or lack of know-how.

Case in point: Whenever I go to into a Jiffy Lube or Pennzoil, I always like to hang out in the garage while they do the tune-up or oil change.  (Not only do I get to see exactly what they are doing–I find it interesting–but I also like chatting.)  The workers don’t usually mind–and I think they like giving me the blow-by-blow account of my car’s tune-up.  By being engaged, I come off as informed and less likely to fall for any suggested, unnecessary repairs/parts replacement.

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The Culture of ‘You’re Special’ Is Ruining America

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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When I was in middle school (early 2000s) my 6th grade math teacher was asked to stop grading assignments using a red marker because the resulting red, massacred papers were too much for students to bear.  Imagine angry calls from parents because their children were sobbing about being failures.  Come on, you’re eleven years old!  (Only a few years later, teachers were asked to grade using green pens because they were less upsetting to students…)

The way children are raised has shifted from “love + small, measured doses of reality” to “love – exposure to the real world.”  Many children today receive stickers on each assignment (even if they failed the spelling test), trophies for being a part of a soccer team (that they never played on), and award ribbons for participating in required activities.  They also probably have their homework marked in either green or pastel blue.  Their graded assignments meet the “sticker quota.”  Parents give them candy because they are sad they failed a test (because they didn’t study).  I understand kids are sensitive, impressionable, and don’t take well to failure, but kids shouldn’t be coddled forever.

The Millennial generation has been raised to believe that everyone is special.  Barney told me I was special.  So did my mom, dad, and Elmo.  Nobody’s feelings are allowed to be hurt or any stress inflicted.  There isn’t much competition and little incentive to work hard.  In short, there are no losers.  But are there really any winners?

This is the paradox: in order to make everyone feel “special,” everyone must be treated the same–no matter what.  What a contradiction.

This mentality is ruining society.

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The Dubliner: Washington, D.C.’s Own ‘Emerald Isle’

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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Ahh, Washington, D.C. in the fall.  Crisp monuments framed by changing leaves, fewer tourists, and local beer festivals.  It’s great; but hoping for something better?  How about Ireland in the fall?  After marauding across the countryside, a tired traveler can duck into a lively pub for a pint and good company…  Yes, please take me there!

One of my good friends was fortunate enough to leave for a vacation to the Emerald Isle last week and I was left here in D.C., wishing I could join her.  She was kind enough to email me gorgeous pictures of her adventures and travels—and give me a blow-by-blow account of her Guinness Factory Tour– I was left dreaming of Guinness, fantastic scenery, and cozy pubs.

But dreams are just dreams. I needed more.

I went in search of my own piece of Ireland here in the capital and was reminded of an old favorite: The Dubliner.

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