Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Today is Christmas. While the air is moist here in Miami, not cold and crisp like a Dicken's novel, I have accustomed to listen to traditional Christmas songs indoors, set the air condition to a freezing 73 degrees, wrap myself in a scarf, while gazing out my kitchen dining window at swaying palms, choppy blue and green bay water and neighbors splashing in the clear blue pool and bouncing a fuzzy green tennis ball across the net. This is Christmas in Miami, not white but blue and green and I am thankful it is not below freezing temperatures.

Despite difficult times around, I am grateful for many blessings. For my family, for good health, for the improved health of my mother after an accident this August, for my friends and their support during a recent loss, for my children (pets) and their unconditional love and the valuable lessons they teach me, for having a beautiful home, and a stable job with health benefits. Despite some difficult moments this year, I am still blessed in many ways.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas. No matter your religion, my Christmas wish is a wish of new beginnings, joy, hope and peace for all mankind.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Remembering Pepe Francois

Recently I faced a deep, personal, loss. My baby boy, a young, five year old cat died suddenly on Tuesday, December 16. The pain is greater than I imagined. Sudden death has that impact. This cat taught me valuable life lessons such as patience, sacrifice, and accepting any amount of attention and affection with eternal gratitude for life's little blessings.

His name was Pepe Francois and because he was a special cat and brought me immense joy, I have created an entirely separate blog in his memory.

Please CLICK HERE or his photo above to learn about this angelic creature and incredible soul.
Humans could learn so much from pets.

To all my friends and relatives, thank you for your sympathy and well wishes.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Books Read by Sexy Potato Peel Club

The Sexy Potato Peel Book Club has read more books weighing as much as ten bags loaded with Idaho potatoes. That's a heavy load. That's because we're not afraid of hardcover books.

Most of our books are classified fiction, with a peppering of "historical fiction" and few non-fiction. Many we would consider Babe Books (similar to Chick Flick movies). Normally the main character is a female and overcomes personal and physical struggles with miraculous inner strength. I love the female hero books. They motivate and inspire me.

Starting with the most recent, here is a list of books we have read:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Club (fiction)
To Kill a Mockingbird (fictional novel)
One Thousand White Women (fiction)
Those Who Save Us (fiction)
Molokai (historical fiction)
SnowFlower and the Secret Fan (historical fiction)
Thousand Splendid Suns (by Khaled Housseini)
100 Years of Solitude (famous Spanish novel we read in English)
Running with Scissors (a memoir)
The Lost German Slave Girl (historical fiction)
The Alchemist (novel)
Marley & Me (memoir)
The Courtesan (fiction)
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (memoir)
The Kite Runner (fiction) by Khaled Housseini
The Glass Castle (memoir)
The Orientalist (historical fiction)
The Mermaid Chair (fiction)
Paper Life (fiction)
The Secret Life of Bees (fiction)
How Soccer Explains the World (non-fiction)
The Tao of Pooh
The DaVinci Code (fiction)

If you would like our collective opinion or assessment of a book, use the comment section directly below and the Sexy Potato Peel Club will answer you within 48 hours! (That's because normally one of us is travelling--normally DA is jetting between the islands and Miami for work).

Stay tuned for our individual number one picks!

Victoria's Secret Panty Scam

Perhaps since I'm normally well organized with receipts and rarely have to do an even exchange without one, I was not aware of a new policy change at Victoria's Secret stores! Here's my experience. [Note: I apologize in advance if sharing a transaction for purchasing a panty seems TMI --too much information. All I can ask is to concentrate on the transaction of trying to exchange an item. ]

Yesterday I visited a VSC store to exchange an item. A month ago, I received a gift card for a free panty (as a regular catalog shopper of day wear, VSC rewards their customers with these lingerie treats--great marketing). So when I went to redeem my panty, one store did not have my size (the free panty is a specific style and limited to one of four solid colors--selection is very limited). Given that the card expired relatively soon, I picked one panty in different size, and decided to come back another time to exchange it when they had my size. (Note: panties and lingerie are not great values at Victoria's Secret--you're buying the brand name; on the same day I saw an exquisite black and white, matching bra and panty set at Target for half the price of VSC).

At first I thought, I don't really need the panty, maybe I'll exchange for something else of equal value, a bath gel or soap. So I visited a Victoria's Secret store locally and was told that since (I had left the receipt at home to show it was a free panty, yes silly me) I didn't have the receipt the panty was worth (after scanning) "$2.50 on sale" when the tag showed $7.50. I saw the indoor promotion of 3 for $15 which makes it $5 a piece. I asked how did it ring up $2.50 when the lowest value on the store floor is $5.00? The cashier and manager said that's the clearance value. I then asked, "Do you mean I could buy more panties of that style for $2.50?" I asked with mounting excitment thinking I hit the jackpot day for stopping by. "No, that's the sale value when you don't have a receipt," explained the manager. Something was wrong here I calculated.

"You mean if I exchange or return this panty without a receipt, it's only worth $2.50, but if I buy one now off the shelf, it's worth $7.50?" The manager confirmed it. "That sounds like a scam!" I exclaimed. "It's a new policy the store implemented because of theft," continued the cashier.

"So if I come with an item that has a tag and clearly not worn, your store automatically assumes I stole it and offers a "clearance value" that does not exist?" I fumed.

"I'm sorry Miss, that's the new policy," stated the cashier with calmness and slight guilt realizing the line of customers behind me were eagerly listening and patiently waiting. The customer next to me chimed in "Oh yes, same thing happened to me last week when I wanted to exchange a gift. You're screwed if you don't have a receipt even though the tags are still intact."

Ok--then I'll just exchange it for the SAME PANTY but in a different size. An even exchange--harmless, right?

I picked out the exact same panty in my size for what I assumed would be an even exchange. At the register I'm told I have to pay $5.00. "WHY?!" I asked. "Because the panty you brought is only worth $2.50 without a receipt (even with the tags) and the one you are purchasing is $7.50, for one panty," explained the cashier.

"Ma'am," I started calmly, "There is absolutely no way I am going to pay any money for the exact same panty," I finished with a clear conviction in my voice but maintaining Victorian grace. The cashier signaled the manager and he authorized the even exchange.

"Unbelievable!" I exclaimed again. The bright pink and black striped decor on the wall suddenly appeared all red in my glaring eyes. Victoria's Secret was becoming a red zone in more than one way. Marketing to young girls for one, and this new policy to combat theft which only hurts the customer. I was afraid to ask if this policy was across all merchandise. What happened to my once-favorite store? I used to work there for many years during college and post college years.

When the cashier rang up the transaction, she politely wished me a Happy Holiday and I thanked her for her patience and explained I realized it was not her fault but that the policy was unfair to customers and commented it needs to change. There are other ways to combat theft.

LESSON LEARNED: If you don't have a receipt, the value of the item is grossly below the least expensive value in the store. So if you buy a gift for anyone from Victoria's Secret--GIVE THEM THE RECEIPT which is tacky sometimes. Or better, to protest this new policy, WRITE TO VICTORIA'S SECRET AND STOP SHOPPING THERE until they change the policy. While it may be legal, it certainly is unfair to the buyer and recipient.

What do you think? Please post a comment, we'd love to hear from other shoppers and your opinion of this policy change!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Sexy Potato Peel Club

If you are reading this blog for the first time, then allow me to introduce the Sexy Potato Peel Club--a book club of six, independent, intelligent women ranging in age from 40 to 60 years young. For an introduction to the book club, please read my posting From Bond Girl to Book Worm.

As a followup to the introduction, this potato peel will share our rules and non-rules for the SPPC. Basically answering those often-asked questions from curious minds.

First, we aim to hold our meetings every two months. Initially the meetings were more regular, once a month. Then life takes over and getting six women together is a challenge. Climbing Mount Everest might be considered an easier feat.

The venue: we rotate the club meeting at each member's home. The hostess is then responsible for providing finger food and wine. While "potato peel" has a literary meaning for our book club, "finger food" takes on a new gastronomic definition for the SPPC. It means a three course meal, whether home-made or picked up at a local, boutique market such as Gardner's Market. The other requisite is red and white wine!

The minute I share this morsel of information, inquirers fill in the blanks automatically. "So you spend more time eating, drinking and probably discussing women's issue." How did they guess? The three-course meal is the first major clue, and the wine says it all.

While we do discuss the book, most of the evening is spent going around the circle for each member to share her latest adventures, family news, job highlights and lowlights, dating and relationship sagas, and travels within the 50 United States or around the globe. Oh yes, and we discuss and debate news and politics. Collectively, it's part Sex in the City, part Desperate Housewives, CNN, and the Travel Channel all in one ready-to-roll-out drama series. Nonetheless, we look forward to each book club meeting with great anticipation.

What's the process for selecting books? Good question! The hostess is responsible for providing a selection of three to five books, a combination of fiction and non-fiction. Normally we check New York Times Bestseller's list and print out summaries and review. Then we each vote and majority book wins. Our group majority prefers fiction (five out of six), so normally I get outvoted for the non-fiction. I enjoy learning new subjects, whether it's history, culture, geography, anything. However, with more and more "historical fiction" books, my appetite for facts is fulfilled with historical or cultural backdrops while the storyline fancies our imagination.

Which books have we read? Stay tuned for part three of the Sexy Potato Peel Club.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Frugal Duchess of South Beach

Last night I went to hear the author of Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money at the Books & Books in Coral Gables. My friend and book club partner Sandra, spotted the email and pointed it out to me and thought it would lend to my money blog "We'll Show You the Money".

Sharon Harvey Rosenberg draws from her personal life growing up in Phildelphia, PA and moving to the suburbs. Her parents, educated and wise, set the foundation. Now she lives in a condo overlooking the ocean in South Beach, FL. Not shabby!

While I have just started reading the book, here are some reviews on to give you an idea.

If you are a graduate of "Tightwad Gazette" or a prodigy of "America's Cheapest Family" then this book may not add to your repetoire, except Sharon does share many current websites and blogs on frugality which bring you up to date.

However if you have wondered how people who earn less than you are living the good life (legally) without daunting debts and the pressure of paying interests and bookies, then this book will inspire you to evolve and adapt to a new way of thinking about money.

Nowadays with looming news of mortgage crisis, stocks sinking, job layoffs... this is the right time to turn a new leaf, a new page and get this book to help you become financially stable and have peace of mind for the future.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

From Bond Girl to Book Worm

So I've taken down the Bond Girl wallpaper of my blog (it's so easy to "redecorate" a blog) now that my Bond mania has subsided and I'm pulled by a constant force of nature...

The most fascinating aspect of my life which receives the most attention and, therefore, I get the most questions is about (drum roll please…) my book club. It’s curious to me why my participation in a book club would elicit so much interest. Often the questions are the same from all inquirers and usually in the same order. How did you get involved? How long have you been a member of the book club? What types of books do you read? Which are your favorites? I now open the closet door to reveal and share this fabric of my life tucked away, not hidden, three- fourths down the closet row.

Yes, for years now, I have been a member of a book club that my friend Lisa and I started. Lisa Schmick (now Lisa Evans) used to live across the street and we became friends through our dogs. In other words we met outside while walking our dogs. As two, single, independent, smart women who dote on their daughters (our dogs), Lisa and I met two to three times a week to get the girls together for playtime (our dogs Mon Cherie and Samantha). While the girls ran up and down the indoor condo hallway for their exercise (and yes they were well behaved and did not bark), Lisa and I often discussed an array of topics—usually work, dating fiascos, plans for travel, investments and books. When we learned we each read the same book “The DaVinci Code” the idea of starting a book club was conceived. Lisa contacted several coworkers from her past jobs—all women. We decided to keep it a women’s book club. In our first meeting, there were about seven to eight women. Then one member moved, one could not spare the time between work and her husband, and others faded way. The original three members to this day are Lisa, Leslie and me. Then coincidentally we each introduced one, smart, avid reader of books to the book club. Lisa brought Adrienne, Leslie introduced Dorothy Ann (DA for short), and our last member to join is my neighbor Sandra. Since Sandra’s induction, we have remained a solid six members for the past three years.

When a member of the original group wanted to invite a man, she was nearly beheaded. Later, once our club was bound like a book with six chapters, and someone wanted to bring a seventh member, the majority voiced “no” over emails. We were more than a club—we were now friends that shared more than literary discussions. We shared sensitive details of our personal lives. A new person would be an intruder.

So who are these six independent, smart, successful women? Well you all know me by now. Then there’s Lisa, a financial controller for a boutique luxury cruise line. Adrienne who also works with Lisa on marketing for the cruise line. Then my neighbor Sandra, who works in the medical field; Leslie, a Human Resources specialist, and Dorothy Ann (DA), who’s worked with CIGNA healthcare for eons of years. All of us are single with the exception of Lisa, who broke the cycle and became a new bride this year. Her and Bob, a firefighter, live happily with two dogs in the Gables.

Do we have a name? Not formally. Recently when I ran the idea by the group an unexpected silence fell across Leslie’s living room. I turned to Adrienne who was all for the idea earlier in the day but caved in when Leslie and DA objected. “No if we have a name then we’ll fall apart,” said DA. Interesting theory. Later I thought to myself, we’re not a rock band that always breaks up after reaching celebrity stardom nor do we have plans of becoming famous (well actually I did envision us as guests on local news shows given our groups dynamic, and potpourri of book selections; I saw us as the Beardstown ladies of the book club. The Beardstown ladies are a group of women who started a financial investment club and made millions.) Secondly, we’re not a marriage where half of all matrimonies end up in divorce. We’re a group of friends that have one thing in common—our passion for reading. Recently in an email, I announced to the group that soon I would blog about the club and call it “The Sexy Potato Peel Club”. This was my name of endearment for a bond of women, a group that I looked forward to meeting every couple of months to discuss the trials and tribulations of the main character of the book and then turn to our own. After dissecting the challenges faced by the protagonist, our personal struggles often seemed trivial. Reading is not only stimulating and enriches the mind; it is also therapeutic for the mind and soul.

Yes there’s a story behind the name, but like any good book, the history and meaning of the name will reveal itself in chapters to come along with the unfolding of characters that make up the sexy potato peels and the range of books that shaped our reading and our book club.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Review of Quantum of Solace

The review is in! Quantum of Solace, which means a "measure of peace" meters average with other Bond movies but does not surpass Casino Royale which raised the bar in 2006. It does little to bring peace of mind. But Daniel Craig saves the film in his stellar Bond attitude.

While Daniel Craig is still captivating, his mesmerizing gaze and muscular and precise stunts are the only Bond elements in the movie. The directing and plot are weaker than a diluted Bond martini.

The opening chase scene is frenetic that I reached for an invisible seatbelt to prevent whiplash. Closeup shots and a jolting camera in nanosecond speed, left me asking, "Where's the movie? I can't see anthing". The director was Marc Jacobs (The Kite Runner). Someone forgot to tell Mr. Jacobs that a Bond car chase in the hills of Italy doesn't require a jockeying camera like kite racing in Afghanistan. Thankfully the pace slowed down that I could follow the rest of the movie.

Bond Girl, Camille, (played by Olga Kurylenko) fits the bill. Feisty, independent, and spellbindingly beautiful. Some critics would argue James and Camille lack chemistry. But this is intended given the plot of Bond's avengeance for the death of his Royale love, Vesper Lynd. This standard is lost when he beds agent Fields after meeting her for an entire twenty minutes. What happened to getting to know the girl before bedding her?

The multicultural backdrops of Austria, Italy, Colombia, Haiti and Russia were filmed in four different countries, the most of any Bond movie. But a new twist in traditional Bond disappointed loyalists. James never utters those sexy four letter words "martini, shaken not stirred". Instead when asked what he was drinking, the bartender rattles off the ingredients. Well the secret is out now.

While the movie plot is held together by a thread, Daniel Craig is the bonding agent that keeps the movie alive with his own sheer intensity absent the usual wit and playboy charm.

Another notable void is Q, the elderly, quirky inventor of Bond gadgets, although the touch-screen table screen for tracking known villains is Q quality. His supervisor M, played by Judy Dench, tries to rein in Bond from revenge but the matronly M trusts her number one agent and looks the other way. "Try not to kill anyone along the way" suggests M at the beginning and end of the movie. Lost words throughout the bodily populated action scenes.

Overall I give the movie four out of five stars. And I still love Daniel Craig!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Victoria's Secret Angels in Miami

While Miami's Angels (me and my girlfriends) descended on South Beach in October, the Victoria's Secret Angels flew into Miami this weekend for the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. The annual runway show coincided with the regrand opening of the beautifully $1 billion renovated Fountainbleau Hotel in Miami Beach, just north of South Beach.

Did I attend? For some reason, my invitation was lost in the mail? Imagine that! So once again Sean Diddy Combs, and other A-list celebrities were in town so I guess we'll have to catch up another time.

But I made time to follow the previews online. The show, hosted by singing sensation Usher, was eyecatching but not so much for the lingerie which was absorbed by the mammoth size butterfly wings and other accessories. Rather than draw attention to the bra and panties, the angels-wings-turned-dragon-wings sent your imagination to a fantasy place unlike any fictional movie--an adult version of Harrietta Potter.

Click here for the first clip of the runway show. Note: Accessories not included including the clear string to hold up the panty.

The finale was a diamond-studded show stopper. Were the diamonds real? Can't remember. Let me ask my buddy Sean Combs.

The Fashion Show was filmed this weekend and will air on CBS on Wednesday, December 3rd. See a video highlight below of the new lines of lingerie. Accessories not included.

As a woman, I wasn't studying the lingerie. In my younger years, I used to work at Victoria's Secret every Christmas season back in the time period when elegant lingerie lined the satin hangers and shelves. As a matter of fact, I still have a book of poems in a lovely box that pictures a fair maiden sitting in an English rose garden reading a love letter. This was a gift from a Victoria's Secret store.

Now when I walk into the bright pink and black striped decor stores, I often walk out to look up at the signage wondering if I faultered in my shopoholic state into Vicky's or Trixie's Secret store. No, same name, just different lingerie and obviously different target--younger girls. Hence my collection has gone done a cup size, no more!

However, I do enjoy fashion shows and the Victoria's Secret models are beautiful--it motivates me to keep exercising and watch my eating habits.

Where do you primarily buy lingerie and other bedtime wear? You can tell us--we'll keep it a Secret!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Bond Girls DeClassified

With one week remaining until Quantum of Solace reaches theaters in the U.S., we declassify all the Bond Girls. Who's your favorite and why?

There were memorable names like Pussy Galore and Plenty O'Toole.

My favorite was the first Bond Girl, Ursula Andress who played Honey Ryder. She had a natural beauty and looked great in a white bikini.

Then Carole Bouquet (For Your Eyes Only) with the entrancing blue-green eyes and mermaid long hair. She was smart and beautiful.

But Halle Berry probably had the best body, brains and athletic skills of all the Bond Girls.

Although best chemistry goes to Eva Green as Vesper Lynd in the most recent Bond movie, Casino Royale with Daniel Craig. True love has a way of doing that.

Check out this photo gallery of all the Bond Girls and tell us who is your favorite Bond Girl and why! POST A COMMENT BELOW!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Halloween in Miami

Halloween in Miami is a spooktacular event everywhere you turn. The cool, not-so-balmy weather unleashes an outdoor costume ball. It's less about ghosts and goblins and more about freaks, geeks, and the average Joe, coming out of their inhibited closets and becoming one with the not-so-shy socialites. On Halloween, behind masks and costumes, everyone is the same. The big difference is that the former group is covered from head to toe while the latter group exposes more flesh and less costume. That's more nighttime.

For the daytime, at work, I threw together a homemade outfit last minute. In the spirit of the election frenzy, I transformed into Joe the Plumber. A plaid shirt (borrowed from mom--you'll never see me in plaid), jeans, Timberland boots (I used to wear in Maryland for hiking), a tool belt stocked with a J bend PVC pipe, clear plumbing tubing, tape to seal to tighten the threads of screw-on metal pipes (People were more frightened by my knowledge of these items--yes I actually repair minor plumbing leaks in my home) and a plunger in hand. Does this make me a geek? No--remember the title of this blog--the next BOND GIRL!

Frank the Monk & Joe the Plumber

My workers in Halloween costumes

More coworkers in Halloween costumes. In the front row, Zamir (in green shirt) is dressed as Carlos, the guy to his right. He took a color photo of Carlo's face to use as a mask.

At night, I morphed into ISIS--the goddess of the underworld dripping in gold. This is actually a home made costume. Well the dress belonged to my mother in the 1970's and I used to play dress up in the black and gold thread dress as a little girl. Then about 10 years ago, I adopted the dress as my permanent ISIS costume for Halloween events. The cape is hand sewn by mom.

Our first stop--The Forge. That night was SWOON night and gothic candles illuminated the normally, dark dining room. SWOON is a new dinner event, hosted every other Friday night. A pre-fixed three course dinner is only $50 and accompanied by an infusion of culture--opera singing, a collection of original artwork...

Cecilia as the Hippy and Christine as ISIS

That same night, there was a large group of 20 people, mostly tall, skinny, young models in barely clad costumes. This customer shows her racer's costume and superhero boyfriend.

Sarah Palin and ISIS

Next stop: SEGAFREDO

On our way back to my condo, we decided we needed to dance off the martinis. We stopped at Segafredo in Brickell, a quintessential Italian cafe. Segafredo converts into a discotheque at night, only a handful in Brickell, my neighborhood. Walking up to the entrance we ran into my neighbor Peter Smalley on his way out and thus he returned for his second bout of dance fever.

A butterfly, nurse, evil goddess, and hippy

DJ Lemoch rocks the house

70's nurse and retro boyfriend

Hippy sandwiched between two Peters

(Peter Smalley, Cecilia Paz, and Peter from El Paso, TX)

Martial artist defends his goddess

Overall we recommend Segafredo for Halloween. It was not too crowded, with elbow room to dance-- a requirement when I go dancing. We stayed until 3am. I can't remember the last time I partied that late. By the way, we only drank water after The Forge, so we could dance!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Christine's Birthday Martini/Cosmo Trail

Part Three of Christine's 40th Birthday celebration--a Martini/Cosmo Blaze through South Beach. I invited several girlfriends for an evening in South Beach. The final five that attended blended perfectly like a martini, shaken not stirred--smooth and flavorful with a zest!

First let me introduce our fabulous five latinas: Christine (the birthday girl who's half Ecuadorian and half Polish so I'm the oddball), her cousin Alexandra (a natural brunette turned blonde from Ecuador), Cecilia (from Puerto Rico in the pink sequence top), Nanushka (Christine's neighbor from Colombia, we call her Nikki--she's the one over 6 ft tall in heels), and Carmen, (another neighbor who's the stunning Mexican in the black dress).

In a black stretch limousine (by World-Wide Limousine), Rodney, our driver, picked us up and off we were to carve out a martini/cosmo trail for these glam girls. Watch out South Beach--here comes Miami's Angels! Our ride and early evening out (South Beach doesn't pick up until 11pm) was serendipitous. Little did I know my friends were such Divas. It turns out our evening was less about drinking and more about bringing that inner beauty and confidence out to shine with grace and a natural style. Not the uppity, celebrity or august type, but average women confident in themselves and not afraid to shine. Nikki, a professional model, guided us on how to pose with subtle changes in body position, hand placement, tilt of the head and in an instant we were Miami's Angels. By the way, we weren't the only ones posing at each bar. A parade of women followed our act.

Our warm- up practice took place in and around the limo. We started with a leg warmup.

Legs from left to right: Nikki, Christine, and Alexandra

Nikki poses with true-to-form limo driver, Rodney

Carmen, Cecilia, Christine, Alexandra standing by limo on 8th & Collins.

Onlookers thought we were celebrities. We played along.

First stop was The Setai. This is where Sean Combs held a private party for the VMA awards. All virgins to the Setai, this Asian-influenced, luxury ocean front hotel seduced us with its handsome decor and ambience of grace and serenity. Out in the courtyard, lounge chairs and sofas bordered the rectangular pond. Here we ordered our first drinks, Lychee Martinis and at the suggestion of our waiter, Carmen tried the Chili Martini. The Lychee Martini was excellent. The best one yet. Not too sweet. Then we sampled Carmen's Chili Martini with a few chili pepper flakes floating on top. FANTASTIC! Sweet and smooth, not sour. A concoction for the taste buds and soul. Wow do I dare order another one? No--we're too smart to commit any Britney-Spears-regretful acts by overindulging. So BEFORE the drinks, our inhibitions were abated by the cool breeze, and the confidence from female bonding. Silently I was thinking--we are BOND girls--Beauty, brains and a couple of us have powerful legs and strength. Never underestimate attractive, slender women.

Back to the story, I highly recommend The Setai for the established age group of 30's and older.

Alexandra, Christine and Cecilia in the breezy courtyard of The Setai.

Nikki posed on cushion backing and shows us how it's done.

Next stop, three blocks up the road, The Gansevoort. This is a new hotel three blocks north of The Setai on Collins Street. We asked for the bar and were told we could not enter through the hotel lobby but directed to a separate door further down the sidewalk. Entering the door, we followed a cordoned rope to the elevators of the lobby. Very strange. Is this the route for the proletariat? This was not a good first impression. The bar was rooftop along with the pool. Nice view of city lights but the crowd was a younger crowd, kids mostly in their early twenties. Boy I'm getting old now that I call 20-year -olds, kids. While the bar was less than inviting with a flock of "kids", we caught sight of the nightlit, rectangular pool and the photoshoot began.

If you're our age falls in the prime of 30 -50 years young, we recommend skipping the Gansevoort. Although someone said the restaurant was good. I'll have to try it one day.

Next stop: The Delano. South Beach's most famed Art Deco hotel. Unfortunately the interior was not preserved to its original fabled history. However, it was remodeled to a contemporary design but its impressive tall ceilings, circular columns, wood paneling on the walls, and floor-to-ceiling white sheers exudes ultimate urban chic. The Blue Door restaurant, partly-owned by Madonna, is in the Delano Hotel. White square beds border the long, rectangular pool. Sound familiar? Looks like the Setai was copying the style during its remodeling phase. But it works. People of all ages and backgrounds visit the Delano, if nothing else, for a peek. The only difference, The Delano white beds are only for the rich or those drunk enough to purposefully get into debt in this unstable economy. To sit or lay on the beds and drink, one has to order a minimum of $300. So if you're a couple, you have to order an overpriced bottle of wine or champagne. More than half of the beds were empty. Why not reduce the price to $200 or $100 dollars to make more revenue? It's about standards. The Delano has standards, no matter the season. The bar at the end of the pool was packed. This was a special celebration and I was not inclined to stand around like a happy hour hangout. No we deserved a table, chairs and a waiter. So what did we do instead? We posed for more pictures on the privileged white beds! Shortly after I pulled out the cell phone and told Rodney we were ready for the next stop. No questions asked. I love limo drivers!

Christine and her cousin Alexandra on the Delano white bed next to the pool.

Our final stop: The Forge. If you have never visited The Forge, this landmark building and five-star restaurant is a Miami institution. The Forge is opulent, old world and attracts the social elite and celebrities. The outside of the building is ornate concrete similar to a 15th century building in Europe, while the interior boasts intricate, stained glass panels. The setting is very dark, a hindrance for some customers. The menu offers steak and seafood and an extensive wine list, over 300 wines and prices to match its five star rating. Famed for its Wednesday night events, a DJ plays house music and dancing is encouraged. Friday through Sunday nights have joined the Wednesday tradition. For our evening, the music was appropriate, a little loud in my opinion. I wanted to dance but some of my friends had to work the next morning. So I decided against it knowing dancing was more addictive for my girlfriends than drinking.

Cecilia introduced me to the owner, Shareef Malnik. A dashing, blue-eyed, blonde with a James Bond build, he took my hand and kissed it. Charming! (And yes he's single). Cecilia then asked Shareef for permission to bring in an outside birthday cake. He graciously allowed it. I called Rodney and he drove up front to deliver my birthday cake.

Cecilia's gift to me was this beautiful, custom decorated birthday cake. (Cecilia has been decorating cakes for sixteen years--a protege of her mother--Ana Paz--famed cake maker in Miami. Cecilia's true profession and passion, is a realist artist). Thank you Cecilia!

Our waiter noticed the cake and brought out a sparkler to ignite while my friends sang me Happy Birthday. We had our second round of cocktails for the night, and our sixth round of photos.

Exiting the Forge. One last pose in front of limousine before heading home.

Thanks to my friends for joining me on this special occasion. I couldn't ask for a better time. A group of girls after my own heart who knew how to have a good time without excessive drinking and make the most of every moment with class and style. How lucky am I? LET'S DO IT AGAIN BEFORE MY 50th BIRTHDAY!

P.S. My recommendations for a cocktail trail

Tiffany Hotel, Spire Bar (it was closed for private party night of my celebration)

The Setai

The Delano (if you can afford the white bed)

The Victor Hotel (on Ocean Drive, slow on Friday and Sat nights; Thursday is the popular night)

The Forge

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New SOBeFit magazine- So What?

Picture: Christine Michaels and trainer Dominic Dorsey

A new fitness magazine has launched, a health and fitness magazine. Another one? Apparently so. But SOBeFit magazine, unlike other national magazines, targets both men and women in South Florida area who are interested in health and fitness. Not just "interested", but actively breathing and living it. This is not a magazine for couch potatoes.

The event to announce the launch took place on October 14. I had the opportunity to attend via personal invitation and so I RSVPd. To read my complete review and experience of the event, please click here.

Scanning the magazine racks at bookstores in anticipation of the launch, titles such as SELF, SHAPE, MUSCLE & FITNESS, Mind Body Spirit FITNESS, Women's Health, Men's Health lined the shelves of the lifestyle section. Is SOBeFit really different? Is it equally balanced for women and men? Is there substantial content to tie it back to South Florida? Is the magazine informative, engaging and motivational? Will it spark readers to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Will it speak to me? Kick me in the butt? Maybe that's for couch potatoes.

In flipping through the pages casually, here are my immediate observations:

+ An article on nutritional value of stone crabs at Joe's, a popular, seasonal restaurant in South Beach famous for their stone crabs speaks to ==> Food, Nutriton, Connection to SFL

+ Calendar of fitness and sport events for reader participation. Events include a 5K run, the ING Miami Marathon, and Climbing the Wachovia tower--wow just the adrenaline from fear will burn calories ==> Activity, Fitness, Connection to SFL

+ An article on the consumption of black beans and other legumes (popular staples in South Florida meals) and healthy recipes ==> Food, Nutrition, Connection to SFL


- The promotion of the "Fittest Person" sends you to their website to register but the registration is not set up. Also, the website does not offer details of the contest and only announces the prizes. This is not a strike on the magazine but the website. Note to Marta--someone needs to connect the dots and ensure all i's are dotted, t's crossed, links working, and promos are backed up ...

- The article on SOBeFit certified facilities left me dazed and confused. I had to read it three times and reach for the fitness dictionary. The "day pass" threw me off. A "day pass" normally means a free pass for one day to a gym. In the introductory paragraph, I understood the readers will get a day pass to evaluate the different facilities. But in reading the full article, I think SoBeFit rates the gyms. So what is the "day pass"? Maybe my blood sugar was low.

-A protein monger and lover of stone crabs, I enjoy them best at the famous Joe's restaurant in South Beach. The article educates the reader on the nutritional value of stone crabs and mentions it is "low cholesterol" but fails to show the cholesterol amount in the nutritional breakdown chart.


The launch issue is nice and condensed, about 100 pages from cover to cover, a plus in my consumer opinion. For me, the less pages, the more likely I will absorb and digest from the first to last page instead of speed reading where I forget 90% of the material. Thick magazines are daunting for this busy Bond bee, although I overheard that the first issue, which launches December 24, will contain twice as many pages. I'm guessing the additional pages will serve as guidance and motivation for the dreaded NEW YEAR resolutions.

Content is evenly distributed across the four pillars--health, fitness, nutrition, and sports. SOBeFit successfully melds content with South Florida culture as indicated above. The magazine draws inspiration from Miami icon and celebrity athelete, Alonzo Mourning who's ready-to-take-off pose mirrors the launch spirit. At both the launch event and in the magazine, Alonzo invites readers to be the fittest person in South Florida. Unfortunately, in following the SoBeFit brick road to the website, there's no information. Was this teaser intentional? Not sure.

More inspiring to me were the articles of regular folks, like me, who have full-time jobs and juggle a plethora of responsibilities including a fitness regimen. The story of Junelly Rojas, a violinist, is a perfect example. She started exercising out of necessity because she developed scoliosis from carrying the heavy violin case for years on the same side. Now she works out at least three times per week: 30 minutes of cardio in the morning, circuit training and 600 reps of abdominal exercises, plus 45 laps in the pool once a week. Junelly is 33 years old and at 5'4" weighs 110 pounds. I need some Junelly juice to get this Bond Girl back on track!

SOBeFit is also packed with how-to's for pushups, weightlifting, stretching and use of the new fitness toys with plenty of photographs at different stages and angles to guide readers. This is very important and I give SOBeFit contributors high marks. Other magazines lack in this area. Risk of injury is high without proper instruction on form and function. Four, five or more clear pictures or illustrations with use of arrows and diagrams is critical to minimize injury and to maximize the exercise. The magazine takes it a step further to include zoomed-in illustrations of the primary and secondary muscle groups. Excellent idea!

RECOMMENDATIONS for future issues:

* I hope to see nutritional value of other local restaurants, whether it's a mom and pop location, a destination restaurant, or a popular fast food chain like Pollo Tropical that is famous for homemade Caribbean fare that is mostly grilled.

* Offer subscribers discounts to future events and day passes to spas and gyms alike. [Day pass meaning no cost to use the gym or spa and its facilities]. Remember, loyalty has its rewards. In a quick comparison to a national magazine, I visited the website, and found an offer for a three-day pass to the LA Sports Club in Miami on Brickell Avenue.

Overall, SOBeFit magazine is a refreshing addition, aid or arsenal for South Florida's fit and health-conscious women and men to battle the bulge, stay fit or strive for higher goals. SOBeFit stands apart from other national magazines and I predict will become part of Miami mainstay. So BE IT!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Review of Ponderosa Stables in Phoenix, AZ

As part of my birthday gift to myself for a getaway spa weekend, horseback riding in the desert park would align me with nature and emancipate me from daily stress.

I learned that Ponderosa Stables was the closest horses stables in Phoenix, an easy 20 minute ride from my hotel in Tempe. Driving up on the dirt road, I felt I arrived in a midwestern ghost town straight from an old cowboy movie. The wooden boardwalk and railing, and a creaky, rusted, swinging saloon sign with not a soul in sight, spurred my fears that they were closed for horseback tours. But wait, a rustle of some hay and the whine of a parked horse, alerted someone behind a barn-sized door. Apparently I was the only customer and would get a private ride with a tour guide. Yeehaw! The stifling 100 degree weather ended with my arrival, and the cooler 90 degree temperature (with zero humidity, it felt like 75 degrees Fahrenheit) marked the beginning of the horseback riding season. At a price of only $30 for the hour, I was elated at Ponderosa Stable's wallet friendly prices.

Devon, introduced me to my horse Mississippi, a male (pictured above). A little fussy at first, once I mounted him, he was a perfect gentleman. My tour guide was Kelly and her horse a young teenager, Boogie (pictured below). He was quite the stud and the typical male teenager--mischevious at times despite Kelly's reprimands. Aahhh animals--they are like children.

Kelly & Boogie guided me (Mississippi was along for the ride as I suppose he knew where he was going) on a tour through a desert park. The star of the show was the giant cactus as pictured below. Actually there were many. The true name of this cactus is Saguaro, pronounced "sah-wah-roh", a Spanish-language adaptation of the aboriginal American tribe.

The Saguaros have a long life span. It takes approximately 75 years to grow the first arm and 50 years for each additional arm. The Saguaro can live a Bible life span of 150 years. Each arm produces a blossom, which is the state flower of Arizona. The flower is a nocturnal bloom, appearing only April-May and requires a pollenizer--in other words forced pollenization. What nocturnal creatures fly around at night? You guessed it--BATS! They feed on the nectar from the night-blooming flowers, which often remain open in the morning.

As I absorb the story of 150-year-old species and bats, in the middle of the desert, an eerie sensation chills my spine and I suddenly ask Kelly--"Will we stumble upon any rattle snakes?" (I really am heart-attack frightened of snakes) "It's possible", she replies calmly. It's only October 3, not the 31st. Too early for Halloween spooks. Suddenly I see a white cottontail rabbit RUN across some rocks. This is better--cute, cottony rabbits. I'm less paranoid now.

Kelly then continues to point out nature's rock formations and those inscribed by the Hohokam Indians, a prehistoric archaeological culture dating back to the beginning of the era to about the middle of the 15th century. Not to spoil the surprise, I'll leave the details of the rest of the tour for your future trip and horse ride at Ponderosa Stables.

Upon our return to the corral, I asked Kelly about the two horses I noticed parked out front. One in particular, a stunning copper horse, looked especially emaciated to my unexpert eye. Kelly shared with me that the two horses (pictured below) were recently rescued. "No kidding!" I exclaimed. "That is wonderful news and the MAIN REASON for my visit!" I shared with Kelly my blog sister's posting on the growing epidemic of abandoned horses (if you have not read the posting by my Blog Sister, Alicia, please take a moment to read it now).

Taking advantage of my private tour, I then asked Kelly how long she has worked at the stables. "Going on four years". Not only does she work there, she lives there. A requirement for caring for horses. How much does she like her job? She loves it! At the end of the tour, I tipped her $10.

Not only did I enjoy my horseback (and by luck "private") tour ride, but I had done a good deed by supporting a horse stable that truly cares about its mission. Later I learned that Ponderosa Stables offers more than one hour guided horse rides. There are 2 hour, 3 hour and 4 hour hide-from-the law rides. Then there's the T-Bone Steak House Ride where the group rides to a restaurant for a juicy T-bone steak. The most popular is the Hay Wagon Rides and Cookout of traditional favorites like hamburgers, hot dogs, steak and chicken.

In total, Arizona has the most acreage of county, state and federal parks combined--over 70 million acres of publicly owned land. Amazing!

I highly recommend visiting Arizona in October. The heat has subsided to a comfortable body temperature, hotel rates are more affordable than peak season (winter), and I will go so far as to suggest taking kids out of school for one or two days for this cultural and educational experience. Arizona State Parks does an excellent job of offering plenty of family activities--their calendar of events is more packed than your female teenager's social calendar. Check it out!

I definitely plan on returning and discovering more of the archaeological culture and desert beauty of Arizona and visiting my new friend, Mississippi.

My horse: Mississippi

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My Spa Weekend at The Buttes Resort

Click on the image for a magnified picture.

Arriving Friday morning, Oct 3, I was instantly greeted at the door by attendants in khaki shorts and yellow polo shirts with a cold bottle of water. "Welcome to the Buttes. Is this your first visit to the Buttes?" they asked me. "No actually I was here 20 years ago". 20 years ago!? Wow--you know you're getting old when you say "20 years ago". I recalled its exquisite desert beauty and surroundings and vowed I would return. 20 years ago the hotel was under the Wyndham flag. Now, the Buttes is part of the Marriott chain and recently completed a mult-million makeover. It appeared as new as my first visit in 1989. Perfect timing.

The Buttes is nestled on a craggy hilltop in quintessential Southwestern character. At the top of the hill is a circular "Top of the Rock" restaurant with an expansive view of the city and Camelback mountain. Next gradient below is the Market Cafe (with an indoor waterfall) offering contemporary cuisine with indoor and alfresco dining. The Market Cafe and some guestrooms overlook the heart of the resort-- cascading water falls spilling into two free form swiming pools, adorned by cactus-studded rock gardens, and a pots of bright fuschia -colored bougainvillea. A narrow stretch connects the two pools and a cutout wall with a see-through glass invites all to play mermaid or merman and take pictures.

I was in a juxtaposed heaven--the dry, arid rock and cactus with the sound of rushing waterfalls at each pool and inside the Market Cafe. A welcome change from humid, HUMID, hUmId, Miami.

After checking in at 10am, (fully aware that my room was not ready), I changed clothes and planned to go horseback riding at a nearby stables. The purpose of the trip was for pampering the body, mind and soul. So I started in reverse order. Well not pamper the soul, but nourish it with altruistic motives. Since my blog sister shared an enlightening story about abandoned horses in this country, I knew I had to do something. So I decided to support riding stables with my business which in turn, I hoped, would help the plight of abandoned horses. To read the full story, visit Alicia's blog by clicking here.

I visited the Ponderosa Stables, a 20 minute ride from a lavish resort to a remote, desolate, dirt road. I half expected Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine to emerge from a cloud of horse-riding dust (from the movie: Two Mules for Sister Sara). An experience to remember, it required a separate posting. Please click here or visit the next posting for Christine's horse adventure.

The next two days at the resort was packed with spa treatments, lounging by the pool, dining at each bar, restaurant and outdoor patio area overlooking the amoeba shaped pools. I absorbed every sight, amenity and sound as if it were my last for another 20 years.

The Narande Spa is a recent addition to the resort from 2005. Narande, which is Japanese for "alongside flowing water", is a retreat from the everyday world. The spa is equipped with five treatment rooms, a couples room, a rainshower room and nail salon. Spa treatments range from $100-$134 for a 50 minute session. Each week the spa features one facial or massage and offered at a slightly lower rate, normally $20. Rates do not include tax and tip.

For my facial I chose the special the"Vitamin C Experience". This skin rejuvenation treatment left my skin re-texturized and revitalized. After the exfoliation ritual using hot towels and a potpourri of scents (lavender, rosemary), my skin is rehydrated with moisturizers full of Vitamin C--an antioxidant. This facial treatment is appropriate for any skin type, including extremely sensitive skin. I felt 20 years younger. OK maybe a few years younger.

The next day my body, worn from years of NOT horseback riding, yearned for a body massage.

I signed up for the Narande Custom Massage and my therapist, Marty, fulfilled every aching request: Moderate pressure, extra attention to my non-circulation feet, and untying the knots in my shoulder. Then my therapist gently placed hot rocks on my back. This was a new sensation and a soothing relief. My highly skilled therapist also used the soft rounded edges of the rocks to rub along the grain of my muscles and elongate them so I grew an inch (just kidding on the last part). Love the rocks! I highly recommend this massage.

The Narande does offer super discounted specials for one week in September, called "Spa Week". According to the attendant, treatments are reduced to an affordable $50 without skimping on time or techniques. So of course I asked to be added to the email list. If you're planning a spa getaway to the Buttes during the week, then take advantage of a $40 coupon offered by Arizona Spa Girls. It's valid Monday through Thursday only and expires November 30, 2008. Hmm, the idea of spending Thanksgiving in Phoenix is starting to open my pores.

My only recommendation to the Spa is to offer more than room temperature bottled water. Perhaps chilled, light juice (pomegranate water juice is the trend now in most health facilities and spas and even high-end stores like Neiman Marcus) would bring it to par with other spa resorts. The entire space is a little small and tight in the locker room and sitting area. But after a single spa treatment, your oblivious to any shortcomings and indulge in more pampering.


Overall The Buttes was everything I expected. The Staff was excellent--attentive, polite, and very helpful. Although the view of my guestroom ( the parking lot) was blocked by tree branches, it did not matter. Natural light illuminated the room which was spacious and comfortable with a glass enclosed shower, closet with bathrobe, and a separate vanity area --Love it! As a woman who loves to spread her toiletries and makeup like a breakfast buffet, I need countertop space!

Picture: Front Desk staff in the evening were the best!

Unfortunately there were no exercise classes at this spa resort but I knew this in advance when doing my homework before booking. But the gym, with a view of the mini city skyline and freeway fared better than many gyms with little or no windows or views. I love natural light so the wide window aided me while I trekked across the valley on the treadmill. The Buttes is a spa resort and not a full-fledged resort with tennis, golf or water sports on a lake. It's always important to conduct thorough research when picking the right resort.

The Buttes does not provide airport transportation and there is a daily parking fee for cars. Once you're at the resort, they do offer transportation to any destination but at a handsome price. However, the hotel is only three miles from the airport. Thankfully, Arizona residents are refreshingly helpful and kind, that one lady offered me a ride back to the hotel from the stables and another offered me a ride to the airport.

The Buttes is also in close proximity (driving) to many activities. During my weekend visit, Oktoberfest kicked off Friday night and ASU (Arizona State University) is a football field away. This weekend I dedicated to pure relaxation and pampering and secluded myself to the resort which never lacked in scenery, ambience or things to do.

For my next visit, I plan to explore another butte--weather-sculpted buttes punctuating the landscape of Arizona's desert parks, learn about the history behind the city's moniker of a persevering bird (Phoenix), and return to visit my new friend, Mississippi (a horse).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Christine Turns 40--Let the Celebration Begin!

The Big 40 is arriving (Oct 9th) and dreams of endless festivities dance in my head. Normally my birthdays are quiet, noneventful. A dinner with family and friends. But this is the BIG ONE. So I asked myself--what have I always wanted to do for myself or with friends? It hit me harder than a hangover (wait a minute--I've never had a hangover, honestly).

The birthday celebration would span several weekends. Energy levels willing, I can keep up with my own plans.

Most strangers do not believe me when I say I'm turning 40. Flattery will get you everywhere! I'm often asked what is my secret. Here it is: plenty of sleep (at least 7 hours each night, exercise 2.5 days a week faithfully, minimal stress [hence the change in jobs and still single], and eating in moderation). That's it!

Now the challenge is to keep looking 10 years younger as I approach 50. So my first gift, a gift to myself, is a three day weekend at a spa resort. Massages, facials, relaxing by the pool, reading a good book, eight plus hours of sleep. My selected destination: The Buttes Resort by Marriott at Tempe, Arizona (right outside Phoenix, Arizona).

For weekend number 2, my family is inviting me to a weekend in any Florida city I choose. What city is warm this time of year, with plenty of activities and a party atmosphere? Key West!

For weekend number 3, a limo ride with friends to various chic bars in South Beach. Watch out South Beach--here comes Miami's Angels!!!

Let the Celebration begin!!!