On Tap for Today

A fun loving, inspired living blog


Today: Easy summer entertaining.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]Plenty of things in life are difficult. Snacking with friends shouldn’t be one of them.

A tiny and a huge caprese bite for Tina‘s tinyHUGE party

With the weather being just lovely lately (I like the blistering heat almost as much as the recent cool down), there’s no better place to be than up on the roof with a carafe of wine, crisp vegetables, fresh berries and a good wedge of brie.  Oh, and– most importantly– a pal or two.

When it comes to summer entertaining, I like to keep things easy.  No utensils, no cooking, no frills.

  • Glass isn’t allowed by our condo association’s pool, so I’ve been using a shatterproof acrylic carafe to transport adult beverages.  It looks rather shady, but it gets the job done.
  • Washing and cutting vegetables and portioning them in packable containers at the beginning of the week saves time, and ensures you have healthy snacks at the ready.
  • A bit of variety ensures there’s something everyone will like, but I try not to go overboard.  Something sweet, something salty, something gluten free, and something not.  That’s my pool snack M.O.
  • Beach towels make great table cloths.  And they keep your toes warm when the sun sets.  Aaaand they soak up spilled wine.
  • Keeping food finger-friendly equates to less waste (no need for plates or forks).  Besides, tiny things are just plain cute.

The best part about easy summer entertaining?  No need to decorate when you’ve got views like this, captured on my iPhone (no filter, just Mother Nature putting on a show).

Also On Tap for Today:

What is your best summer entertaining tip?


Today: Take your vitamins.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]My body celebrated the second day of summer by coming down with a cold.  Quite rude, if you ask me.  With the weather being so hazy, hot and humid I would much rather be up at the pool than zonked out on the sofa.

After a few days of sniffling and wondering if I had accidentally swallowed a knife, I am starting to feel better.  I wonder though, can I blame this cold for the fact that I attempted to meet my girlfriends at the wrong restaurant on Friday night?  I was quite proud of myself for being early and snagging the best table in the house, until I realized my error.  The waiter thought I had been stood up and insisted that my soda water was on the house.  It was rather mortifying.

Clearly my body (and my brain) could use a time out.  And perhaps, some vitamins.  I know there are those who are anti-vitamins and supplements.  In an ideal world, I’d get everything my body needs from my diet.  While I am not a doctor, a scientist, an astronaut, nor an RD, I do know this for sure:

  1. My diet is far from perfect.
  2. Vitamins will only work if I, um, actually take them.

And I often forget to take them.  Kelly reminded me to take yesterday’s multivitamin and vegetarian DHA (sort of like fish oil, minus the fish), but I am not certain that nooding around on Twitter is the most reliable system for ensuring I take them daily.

So I started thinking about my daily routine.  What’s one thing I never, ever forget to do?  Load up on the mascara.  I also find that planning out my week each Sunday, whether it’s meetings, meals or workouts, really helps.  You know those pill holder things that old people the most experienced members of our society use?

I now own a sweet purple one.  I filled the week’s worth of soft gels this morning (which reminded me of that pebble game, Mancala, that we used to spend hours playing at the beach), and tucked the container into my makeup bag, right next to the mascara.

I think I am on to something.  Maybe.

Also On Tap for Today:

What’s one thing you never forget to do?


Today: A real Do-It-Yourselfer.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]I was flipping through Allure last week and spotted this Sonia Kashuk for Target ad.

My imagination was captured.  I dug through my bathroom draw (contents: moisturizer, nail polish, more moisturizer, more nail polish) and got to work.

After removing my old polish, cleaning, filing and buffing nails, I applied two coats of Revlon Dreamer (pale blue).  Per usual, my impatience got the better of me and I moved on to step 2 (applying those half moon stencil sticker things) too early.  After reapplying two more coats of Dreamer to my pointer finger, I made sure to wait twice as long this time.

Once I was sure the blue polish was dry, I carefully applied the French polish guides.  I recommend doing your non-dominant hand first (which I didn’t do, naturally).  Next came two coats of Nicole by OPI The Next CEO (shimmery gold) above the polish guides, allowing plenty of time for the gold polish to dry.

The guides come off easily, leaving a nice crisp line of gold above the blue polish.  I finished up with two coats of top coat and carefully flipped through the rest Allure while my nails dried.

Could a professional have done better?  You better believe it.

Is it fun to do it yourself every now and then, regardless?  Yes, ma’am.

Also On Tap for Today:

What is your favorite DIY project?  Favorite nail polish color?


Today: Don’t get your eyebrows waxed when you’re sad.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]I believe the last time I explicitly offered advice On Tap, it involved going to the hospital when you have a concussion, rather than laying on the sofa eating ice cream and trying to remember the word for “post office”… in English.

Today, I impart this nugget of wisdom:  when you’re sad (even just a little), do not get your eyebrows waxed.

I had exactly six minutes of unscheduled time this weekend.  Feeling it was important to not appear at my grandmother’s funeral with a unibrow, I popped into Gaelic Day Spa (my favorite non-Gaelic, very un-day-spa-like-day-spa) for a quick grooming.  I am mostly good at keeping my emotions in check (emoticons are another story, I love a good winky face), but the second that hot wax and errant eyebrow hair was ripped from my face, I just about lost it.

I am guessing I am not the first person to cry on the esthetician’s table, and I likely won’t be the last, but I felt rather awful when the woman taming my brows thought she had mortally wounded me.  I couldn’t express what I was actually feeling, mostly because my six minutes were nearly up, but I tried to assure her it wasn’t her fault.

After all, it was my fault.  Trust me.  Do not get your eyebrows waxed when you’re sad.  Here are a few things to do instead.

Just be sad.  It’s okay to be upset when you’re upset.  And if you feel like talking and you need someone to listen, I will gladly share my dog.  He rarely talks back.

Watch the Caine’s Arcade video.  It’s 10 minutes long; I estimate that you’ll feel better by the 14 second mark.  I also recommend Marcel the Shell, and anything involving small children singing Hey Jude.

Make a feel good playlist.  This is not the time for brooding, melancholy jams.  When I need to be lifted up, I go straight to Sir Duke. David Gray is fully off limits.

Sweat it out.  Nothing reminds me of the therapeutic power of a good workout quite like a few days out of the game.  Endorphins are real.  Don’t believe me? Ask Endorphin Dude.

Find an outlet.  Not an electrical one.  A creative one, perhaps.  I impulsively bought a coloring book and a box of crayons this weekend.  I was prepared to lie to the cashier about them being gifts for my niece or nephew, but the lady didn’t seem fazed by a 30 year old buying a Hello Kitty coloring book.  Which is good.  Since my niece or nephew isn’t due until June.  Plus, I don’t think infants are allowed to have crayons.  Oh, and also: it’s bad to lie.

Whether it’s doodling, making a special meal, taking photographs, or writing down my thoughts, I find expression to be especially helpful when I’m feeling down.

Get outside.  I’m fortunate enough to live a short run from the ocean.  And this weekend, while I was away leading a retreat, my room had incredible views of the sea.  During the day, I watched the tide’s cycle and couldn’t help but be moved by the natural order of things.  Sometimes the tide is high, and we are carried high atop the waves.  And sometimes the tide pulls out, and we’re left feeling very small, a bit lost and a little abandoned.

Inevitably, though, the tide comes back in.  And so it goes with life.  Sometimes we’re up.  And sometimes we’re down.  And when we’re down, we’d be wise to avoid the hot wax at Gaelic Day Spa.

Also On Tap for Today:

What’s your favorite feel good jam?


Today: Take better photos.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]After a long week at work, I would’ve loved to have slept in on Saturday, but that would have meant missing a day with these two hooligans at the inaugural Blog Better Boston conference.

I always have a good time with Bridget and Ali, regardless of what we’re up to.   In addition to catching up and lots of laughs, the highlight of the day was definitely Kristin Teig‘s food photography workshop.

It was great to have access to such a talented photographer, see demonstrations on lighting techniques, and pick up a few tips and tricks.  While she focused on food photography, the information she shared was useful for all types of photography and not limited to DSLR cameras.  In fact, she shared an incredibly beautiful shot of fresh strawberries… and then revealed that it had been taken on her iPhone.

Here is Kristin walking Bridget through the aperture priority setting on her camera.

Kristen shared an extensive list of resources, and recommended we check out Creative Live‘s various online courses.

Other resources she recommended:

The other sessions I attended paled in comparison, but it was great to spend time with Bridget, Ali, Colleen and Michelle.  I am excited to break out my camera and play around a little bit over the next few days.  In the meantime, I have 42 loads of laundry to tackle.  And a French bulldog who is in serious need of a bath.

Also On Tap for Today:

Is there a particular skill you’re looking to improve?


Today: Be healthy, Boston. {Day 2}

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]While I’m usually an early riser, this morning’s 5:40 alarm came all too quickly.  I fought my eyelids to get my contacts in, bashed my elbow on the shower door, and managed to get toothpaste on not one, but two shirts.  Craving a do-over for the day, I contemplated getting back into bed, but Clark was patiently waiting at the door, so out we went.  After watching a beautiful sunrise of Broadway with my dog, I couldn’t help but smile.  I was decidedly not going back to bed.

I grabbed my yoga mat and I made it to the Westin on time for the second day of Be Healthy Boston, which kicked off with a morning stretch and flow led by lululemon ambassador Leslie Salmon Jones.  One of the women I sat next to in one of yesterday’s workshops raved about Leslie and her infectious attitude, and it’s no mystery why.  I left the session feeling energized, warmed up and quite like someone who had not woken up on the wrong side of the bed.

I met up with my new pal Elizabeth for the morning keynote, Organize Your Mind to Organize Your Life, delivered by Margaret Moore, founder of Wellcoaches Corporation and a 17 year veteran of the biotech industry.  Ms. Moore offered several rules of order for the brain, and techniques for improving brain health and function.  She talked about the disadvantages of multitasking, remarks that resonated loudly with me, a person who seems to be perpetually multitasking and often running on empty at the end of a busy workweek.  Ms. Moore shared important connections between negative emotions (including feeling stressed or frenzied) and impaired working memory and overall brain function.

Now I know why I often forget where my car is parked.  Yikes.  Fortunately, Ms. Moore offered several proven steps we can take to improve cognitive health and flexibility… and they’re sort of… no brainers.  Bahahaha.

  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Engage in mindfulness practices
  • Breathe and take breaks from tasks that require sustained focus
To improve working memory, in particular, Ms. Moore encouraged the group to
  • Get enough sleep and rest
  • Exercise (a two minute walk is enough to recharge the brain)
  • Repeat important info to ourselves
  • Handwrite important tasks, and focus on the words

Ms. Moore shared that, generally, people who do not suffer from ADD or ADHD can focus deeply on a task for an hour before needing a break.  Multitasking may seem like a necessary evil in our day-to-day lives (I certainly feel pressure to get six things done at once), we divide our attention when we multitask.  I’ve had a printout on the Pomodoro Technique at my desk for ages.  Perhaps I should give that thing a look on Monday morning.  Though I was never much of a scholar when it came to science, I am a nerd through and through and was fascinated with the research and practical application Ms. Moore offered.  Verrrrrry interesting.

Next up was Live Practically Green: Make healthy green choices for your family, home and workplace with Susan Hunt Stevens, Founder and CEO of Practically Green.  Attendance was a bit down from the day before, and there were only four other people in this session.  Susan had such great information to share, so I wish the room had been full, but it was really nice to be able to ask a lot of questions of such an expert.  I am looking forward to digging into Susan’s site, which features 400 actions you can take to live more greenly.

Susan shared some great advice for making better choices about what we put in, on, and around our bodies. A few of the many, many tips I noted in my little (recycled paper) notebook:

  • In addition to food, drink, water and personal care items, we need to be mindful of packaging and food storage.  Food should not be stored in plastic, and plastic should never go in the microwave.  I shall henceforth be digging into our extensive Pyrex stash.
  • When purchasing cosmetics, lotions, and beauty products, avoid anything containing parabens or fragrance.
  • Most new mattresses are made from petroleum-based foam, which is highly flammable.  As such, mattresses are treated with flame retardant, which is highly toxic.  Like the Britney Spears song, except awful.  Because infants spend 80% of their time in their cribs, it is especially important that they have safe mattresses made from natural materials.  Our Tempurpedic mattress literally changed my life, so this one broke my heart… hard.
  • Wash all new clothing before wearing to limit the risk of dyes and other chemicals.  Susan recommended organic cotton lines from Eileen Fisher and Nike, as well as buying clothing at vintage and secondhand stores.
  • Indoor air is between 5 and 5o times more polluted than outdoor air (this shocked me, to be honest).  Wiping your shoes on a mat and leaving them at the door can reduce up to 80% of toxins you might otherwise track through your house.
  • We can save on energy costs by reducing the amount of meat we ate (I am so ahead of the curve, unintentionally), investing in high efficiency and Energy Star appliances, and getting an energy audit to identify sources of waste in our homes.
  • Only 50% of Americans have access to curb-side recycling.  I am feeling especially fortunate to live directly across the hall from our condo building’s recycling room.  Even though one of our new neighbors apparently missed the “no cardboard boxes in the trash/recycling room” memo and unloaded a full condo’s worth of boxes this morning.

Susan concluded with a great quote, reminding us that everything adds up.

“It’s not that you can make a difference…it’s that everything you do makes a difference.”

–Phillipe Cousteau, CEO of EarthEcho International, and grandson of Jacques Cousteau

I started taking the quiz and building a sustainability plan at Practically Green and continue to soak up even more information from Susan Hunt Stevens.  I highly recommend visiting her site.

Before heading home to tackle a few Sunday errands and chores (hello, Mount Saint Laundry) and get myself on track for the week, I met up with Elizabeth for a Yoga Beats mini-class hosted by Healthworks.  Hitting the mat twice in one morning with a new friend felt like the ultimate luxury, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.  This was a day well worth getting up for, toothpaste on the shirt and all.

Also On Tap for Today:

Have you been to any interesting events or conferences lately?


Today: Entertaining for mortals.

[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]I think I have had a life-crush on Martha Stewart ever since I knew she existed.  Truly.  I don’t really even mind the insider trading thing, because well… I love a comeback.  Do I think it’s unseemly to know right from wrong, and still do wrong?  Absolutely.  But who can deny the majesty of this “simple” wreath chandelier?  Or the perfect presentation of desserts set out for expected carolers?

[Image source]

Not me.  While I would love to entertain for a living, I sort of need to make a living in order to entertain.  I don’t have a team of stylists.  I do have a dog that likes to decorate the condo with various half-chewed stuffed animals when we have company, but no… no team of stylists.   I can’t pay chefs to cook lavish meals for in-home dinner parties, and the closest I’ve come to having someone food shop for me is Peapod (a veritable life-saver when there’s a blizzard pending and you’re nearly out of TP).  I have never successfully sewn a pair of boiled wool slippers for my every member of my family, though I did successfully print Martha’s handy templates.  That has to count for something.

While it’s unlikely I will ever become Martha Stewart, Jr. (I’ve heard the name change process is a real bore, plus I rather like the new last name that’s waiting for me in November 2012), and it’s equally unlikely that I will have her resources at my disposal, a girl can dream…  And then wake up, use what resources and creativity and flair she does have, and throw a damn good party.  Or decorate a damn lovely condo.  Or bake a damn tasty cake.

I don’t know why I just said damn three times.  Probably for emphasis.  Did it work?  Entertaining is not just for the Marthas of the world.  It’s also for mortals like you and me.  Want to know how I trick people into thinking I have my act together?  Too bad.  I’m going to tell you anyway.

Set the stage

Every Wednesday this Advent, I’ve hosted faith sharing for fellow Jesuit grads.  If that sounds interesting to you, I’d be happy to elaborate.  If you now think I am a crazy Christian, I’m happy to affirm your thoughts.  ‘Tis the season for giving, after all!  Back to Wednesdays.  Our group arrives at my condo just before 7.  I rarely get out of work before 6.  My commute is usually painless, but every once in a while, the person ahead of me forgets how to drive.  I try not to give people the aggressive horn toot on my way to pray, but um… sometimes it just happens.  I’m often left with all of 20 minutes to make sure our condo is guest-ready, set out food and drinks, find matches (I can’t talk about God without candles.  Just kidding.  Kind of.), put my face back on, and turn my work-brain off.  The key here is planning ahead.  And having a fiance who can field my panicked “I am stuck in a meeting and I forgot to vacuum” phone calls.

It’s no secret that I am list obsessed.  When it comes to entertaining, I have this one memorized and use it for brunches, neighborhood Cinco de Mayo parties, and Yankee swaps with my best pals.

They’ll be here any minute and this place looks, um… lived in!

  1. Empty the trash barrels
  2. Wipe down the counters and sinks
  3. Light candles and safely dispose of the matches
  4. Turn on the electric fireplace
  5. Herd Clark’s rogue toys
  6. Set out plates, glasses and napkins
  7. Fluff the cushions on the sofa, and bust out the Scotch fur fighter
  8. Dust and vacuum, if necessary and time allows

This whole process rarely takes more than 10 minutes (when we live in a sprawling mansion, I anticipate it may take longer), and keeps me just busy enough to gain some mental distance between my work day and what lies ahead.  Survey your home and prioritize before you turn into a cleaning machine.  Think about the places people actually notice.  Just last week, someone commented on how clean our bathroom was.  If that person had stepped foot in my shower, or poked their head under my sink, I imagine they may have felt differently.  People will likely not open your dryer, or duck into your closet, so rather than fold your laundry and organize your shoe rack, spend those minutes tidying your living room.

I would be a hot mess if I didn’t have a timeline in mind.  If I have more than 20 minutes, that timeline almost always includes 19 minutes for freaking out when I burn something in the oven.  I make sure that if I need to get dressed or changed, this is not the last thing I do.  Inevitably people show up early, and no one wants to be greeted by my 11 year old Boston College tee shirt with the gaping hole in the armpit.  Once I am feeling presentable, I might pour myself a beverage, or dance around a bit to my favorite jam of the moment.  A relaxed hostess makes for comfortable guests.  A drunk hostess likely has the opposite effect, but that’s a different post for a different day.

Decor need not be a chore.  A vase or two of simply arranged flowers goes a long way.  Three of my current favorites:  a bouquet of kale, a tall vase of white tulips, or a few branches of holly.

Keep food simple, but special

When it comes to food, I’ve mastered a few dishes that take minimal effort, but are just special enough to impress and can be presented in a fun way.  Appetizers and desserts are key here.  I love hosting casual gatherings where you don’t necessarily sit down for a “real” meal.  Mostly because the last time we did that, I undercooked the chicken breast (what’s a vegetarian to do?) and nearly killed Nick, my brother, and my sister-in-law.  Still sorry about that.

A few options to consider:

Many of these snacks can be made the night before, or are easily prepped.  I like to keep our kitchen stocked with many of the necessary ingredients on hand, just in case the Pope or my sister drops by.  Pre-baked phyllo shells were a genius invention.  Same goes for those little loaves of bread.  It may be because I am a shorty, but I always gravitate towards miniatures.

Fresh vegetables are an easy fix, especially when coupled with a Greek yogurt dip containing every single spice in our cabinet, and every herb in our refrigerator.  That keeps people guessing.  Oh, and cheese.  Who doesn’t love an artfully arranged plate of cheeses?  Someone I don’t want to know, that’s who (I make exceptions for people who are vegan or lactose intolerant, obvi.).

Pop that Crystal.  Or the $9.99 Prosecco.

When it comes to beverages, I have one word for you: bubbles.  Bubbles make everything more festive.  Nothing says, “Oh maaaaaaan, am I having a good time!” quite like a glass of Prosecco, or perhaps some sparkling water with a splash of pomegranate juice.  As a regular on the designated driver circuit, I always appreciate when tap water is not the only alcohol alternative.

Speaking of designated driving, if you’d like an early Christmas gift, remind me to tell you about the time I was the DD at Nick’s fraternity formal.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll nominate me for sainthood.

Keep a stash.  Of cute paper goods.

I tend to keep the presentation clean and simple, using a big ol’ white platter and matching plates.  We have a little stash of fun napkins and paper plates and the like tucked away in one cabinet.  Homegoods is a goldmine when it comes to cute, inexpensive cocktail napkins (imagine the things I would know if my brain weren’t full of thoughts like that one?).  In a perfect world, I would use recyclable cloth napkins and strictly bamboo plates.  But, um… this isn’t a perfect world.  Sorry, Al Gore. 😦

We keep platters, bowls, a cheese board, extra vases and other items we use almost exclusively for entertaining in that same cabinet. It’s like one stop shopping.  Except that it’s free, and the inventory never changes.

Play it cool.

The bottom line is this: I’m not Martha.  I’m Elizabeth.  My friends come over to hang out with me, not a lifestyle mogul (likely because she won’t return their calls either).  Entertaining, decorating, cooking, baking, playlist making, and mood setting are things I love to do.  If you’re having fun, you’re likely doing a good job, right?  Just be cool.  And in the words of my kindergarten teacher, be yourself.  Nobody likes an imposter… even one that can turn a wreath into a chandelier.  For the record: I haven’t tried.  Yet.

Also On Tap for Today:

Do you like entertaining?  Or would you prefer to show up with a bottle of wine in hand?