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The art of the bubble bath

Dec 19, 2011

People close to me know that I prefer bubble baths to showers, and many of them think that to be strange. I think they're just not doing it right. There is nothing more indulgent and relaxing that is low cost, zero calories and healthy for you -- especially after a long day, stressful day -- than a hot bath overflowing with scented bubbles that soften your skin. Here's how to do it:


1) Clean your bathtub. 


I keep Clorox wipes in my bathroom so I can quickly wipe away any mildew or soap scum and start with a fresh slate. It only takes a minute and is a great habit anyway.

2) Bubbles! 


The best bubbles are not in liquid form as you may remember from your youth (I'm talking of course about Mr. Bubbles). Calgon Moisturizing Bath Beads are by far the best bubble makers. Don't ever skimp on how much you use, and be sure to pour them under your faucet running at full force as you begin to draw the bath.

3) Bath Salts. 


These are a must if your muscles are sore. Epsom salt draws out toxins from your muscles and helps them to loosen if they are stiff. Just remember to drink a glass of water afterwards so you flush them out. My choice is Ahava Eucalyptus Bath Salts -- a little pricey online, but you can often find them at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls for deals.

4) Aromatherapy Candle. 


My favorite is from Bath & Body Works -- Lavender Chamomile. You can find similar scents at most drug stores, or anything with eucalyptus will open your breathing passages and help you relax.

5) Bath pillow. 


This is tricky -- I've tried a lot of them, and they all are either not comfortable or mildew. Then I found a Memory Foam pillow at Bed Bath & Beyond, which is not only super comfortable, but it's anti-microbial.

6) Entertainment. 

Oh heeeeey Beyonce.
As nice as relaxing is, most of us don't know how to do it for very long. So turn on some music you enjoy, grab a magazine or stream some TV on your laptop (propped on a stool nearby where it won't fall in).  If you can make it 30 minutes, you will have done yourself a great favor.

And now it's time for me to go home and make this a reality!

UPDATED: Giveaway: Happy Hour at McFadden's this Thursday!

Dec 12, 2011

Yes, that's right, I said giveaway.

This week, my pick of the week is McFadden's, one of the best happy hour spots I've found in a while. Located a couple of blocks from the Foggy Bottom Metro, it's huge, friendly and packed during the week.  (Okay, so a lot of its frequenters are George Washington U. students, which means the guys are too young to date, but I still had a blast.)

And, while I'm not personally a fan, I know a lot of people are, so I have to mention that when "The Jersey Shore" cast visits DC, this is where they go:



One Cupcakes and Shoes reader will win a happy hour for this Thursday night!

The deets:

1) Happy hour goes from 6-9 p.m.
2) You can invite as many people as you want.
3) Each guest pays $10 for a wristband, and then they drink whatever they want until happy hour is over with no additional fees.

How to win:

1) Comment on any blog post.

OR

Tweet a link to Cupcakes and Shoes, and be sure to cc me, @CupcakesDC.

OR

Write me something nice on Facebook.

2) Check back Wednesday, December 14, at noon when I update this post with a winner.

3) If you win, email me at cupcakesandshoes@gmail.com and we'll work out the rest.  If you win and don't claim it by 6 p.m. Wednesday, I'll announce another winner at that time.

***************************

Not one person entered this.  I was perplexed at first, and then another blogger clued me in -- they do these happy hours for just about everyone.  And here I thought no one was interested because it's where "The Jersey Shore" cast goes.  Oh well, I tried, people.  I'll have something better to give away next time.

Trader Joe's Seasoned Salts

Dec 5, 2011


If you step foot in a Trader Joe’s this month, you will be distracted by the Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s, Astounding Multi-Flavor Joe-Joe’s, sea salted caramels, Christmas candy, Candy Cane Coal and winter ales/wines.  It’s understandable that you wouldn’t bother venturing down the Seasonings/Rice/Pasta aisle when you plan to live off of sugar until your New Year’s diet begins in three weeks. But you would be foolish not to take a peek.

You see, TJ’s has these amazing new salts, pepper and spices (so incognito that I couldn’t find them on the website). I was first drawn to them because I needed some cinnamon sticks to steep in apple cider, and then I noticed “SMOKED” on a label. Despite (or perhaps in rebellion of) my father’s lifelong concerns about all things carcinogenic, I am in lurv with anything that is smoked. Ham. Turkey. Salmon. The competition. And now, EVERYTHING, because all I have to do to make something smoked is sprinkle a little SMOKED SALT on it (after it’s ground in the built-in grinder).  
 
Can you believe how amazing that is?! After buying it, I first tried it on some Mac and Cheese. Smoked Salt revolutionized basic Mac and Cheese. I had no idea making Mac and Cheese better was possible! 

Next, I had some friends over for dinner, and the culinary genius among us took pomegranate seeds and whipped cream and added the smoked salt. Sounds weird I know, but it was awesome. (And healthy!)

When I went back to TJ’s, I made a beeline for the seasonings shelf to see if they’d come up with anything else. I ended up with Flower Pepper, Lemon Pepper, Rainbow Peppercorns and – wait for it – Sugar, Chocolate & Coffee Bean Grinder. 


If you’re looking for a nice, innocuous holiday gift to give someone, my suggestion is to tie a medley of these with a ribbon.  And at TJ’s prices, your ROI will be a breeze.  You’re welcome!

My Pick of the Week: Whiskey

Nov 28, 2011

This post isn't about what you think it is about.

Sure, I like drinking whiskey to make me feel like I'm Joanie hangin' with the guys on "Mad Men."

Whoa, who's that fox?

It's just lil' ole' me, Mary El. Oh whoops, wait!
That's not me, it's Christina Hendricks! Weird!

And it's empowering to sing "Right now he's probably buyin' her some fruity lil' drink 'cause she can't shoot whiskey," knowing full well that I can. (And when I do, I totally sound like Carrie Underwood! Weird again!) 

And, yeah, I feel super cool when ordering it at a bar and thus knocking the socks off the cute bartender and then getting drinks free all night (true story, for realz).

But that's not what this post is about.

You see when I get around a group of people, especially if food is involved, and even more especially if my parents are around, I become a ham. When I was little I'd just start singing show tunes and make up a dance on the spot. As a teenager I'd talk about boys a lot and made people listen to me recite my poetry about them. ("Boys, Boys Everywhere" was published my high school's literary magazine!)

So with a captive audience at Thanksgiving, it was the perfect opportunity to embarrass myself in front of my parents. After eating dinner, I stood up, holding my food-baby belly, and tapped on my glass.

"Excuse me, everyone, I have an announcement to make." My dad looked up at me and rolled his eyes. "I'm pregnant, and I wanted you all to be the first to know."

"Guess you won't be drinking this with me, then," my cousin told me, shaking a tiny bottle of Maker's Mark (yes, bourbon is technically whiskey, look it up on Wikipedia).

I'd forgotten that my aunt made bourbon whipped cream for the pumpkin pie, and my cousin and I had argued earlier over who got to finish off the bottle.

"HA! Nice try," I said as he poured half of it in a glass and handed the bottle over to me. I yelled "WOO!" before shooting it, and as I did my dad reminded me, "Don't you have a sinus infection? You should gargle it."

My eyes got big and I nodded enthusiastically. I threw my head back and gargled loudly. It burned, bad. Really bad. I gargled as long as I could before it felt like it was draining out of my eyeballs, then I stood up normally again, ready to swallow it. But before I could, my dad said, "Fifteen seconds or it won't be effective. One...two..." I didn't make it to fifteen.

Touche, Father, touche.

He was right. Whiskey is awesome for killing sinus infections. And I now know for sure that I do not look like Christina Hendricks when I'm gargling it.

Recipe: Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Nov 21, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Week! It's my favorite holiday of the year, because there's not as much pressure as Christmas but just as much food. And, at least in my life, it's been the food that's held more tradition than the family practice. That means Thanksgiving can be awesome anywhere (last year I told you about my Thanksgiving in Paris, the most memorable Thanksgiving ever!).

This year I'm jetting to Seattle to spend Thanksgiving with my dad's side of the family on my aunt's farm. When I received the invitation in the mail, I realized I've never spent it with these family members. How is it possible I've gone 30 years without tasting my dad's family recipes on this special day? I'll still require my mama's cooking (asparagus casserole is my fave!), but I'm really looking forward to what a West Coast Thanksgiving will be like.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be one unwelcome dish on the table, because it appears on most tables this time of year.  It's canned cranberry sauce, and it's one food tradition that must be broken.

Do you wax nostalgic when you see an aluminum can of so-called "cranberry sauce" on the grocery store shelf, between the green beans and canned corn?  Do you remember being tasked as a child to open said can before the glorious turkey dinner, and as you felt the gelatinous tube of lined "sauce" wiggle out of the can and onto a dish, landing with a disgusting *slop!*, you felt proud of yourself for being such a good helper? Does a round slice of purplish jelly next to your turkey bring back warm memories of home?

Well get over it. You're not a kid anymore. This year, impress them all with the real stuff!

Let me tell you how easy it is (I'm not even going to look at a recipe, I'm just going to tell you):

1) Buy a bag of cranberries. It's in the produce section, ask for help because it's in a different place in every store I've been to.

2) Go home and rinse them.

3) In a pot, dissolve a cup of sugar and a cup of water over low heat.

4) Add cranberries and put on medium heat.

5) Let simmer for 10 minutes. You want the cranberries to pop during these 10 minutes. I take a whisk and mash them up to help out the process.

6) You're finished. Put the sauce in a bowl or some Tupperware and refrigerate until you're ready to eat it. 

Extra Credit: Grate an orange peel and add the peel and the juice to the sauce while it's simmering.  I also like to put a little cinnamon in it.

And voila!


I put mine in a vintage green dish I found at a thrift store a few  years ago. I find the green against the cranberries looks festive. Much better than than this...


...wouldn't you say?

Red Lips for Dummies

Nov 14, 2011

Like many people, I'm going through "Mad Men" withdrawal. Don't get me wrong -- AMC has produced some quality TV in its stead ("The Walking Dead" and "The Killing" are two of my faves), and "Pan Am" has helped quell the longing a little, but really nothing can fill the "Mad Men" void, especially not Banana Republic's sad attempt at a collection based on the show.

The absence of the retro-themed series does not mean it's left our minds, because everywhere I look I'm seeing 60s-inspired trends.  One that I've never had the guts to try until this year is red lips.

I have to thank my makeup ladies at Aveda for turning me on to it.  I buy most of my makeup from Aveda (good for the environment, kind to animals, not overpriced and everything smells great!), and on a recent trip to refill my powder, one of the ladies asked if she could give me a makeover.  Makeovers never go that well for me, but I was on my way home and had some extra time, so I figured why not.  The purple eye shadow she used wasn't really my style, but the red lipstick was goooooooorgeous.  So I bought some.  Well done, Aveda Lady.

Since then I've found a couple of other products to keep the red looking fresh all day without having to constantly reapply.  I start with Maybelline Superstay in Keep It Red for a base coat...



...then apply my Aveda Nourish Mint in Vanadinite...



...and top it off with Cover Girl NatureLuxe in Peony throughout the day for touch-ups.

It's important to keep up with it, because once it wears off you'll have a red line around your lips and it looks like either you're trying to do the ghetto white girl 90s look with the dark liner and white lips, or you just made out in the mop closet.  Neither is good for your reputation.

In the interest of being a fair and balanced blogger, I have to share with you what I read on SheFinds today regarding red lips:

"One of the trends fellas claimed to hate the most [is red lips].  Let's face it, red lipstick probably reminds them of their moms, it makes them not want to kiss you, and God forbid it gets anywhere near their work shirts..."

To this I have to reply, Reason No. 282 Why I'm Still Single.

Things I could have done today instead of being stood up

Nov 8, 2011

1) Slept in and not gotten up early to wash my hair.
2) Gone to yoga and practiced inverted handstands.
3) Spent quality time with my newly groomed albino deer-dog, Noli.

4) Gotten a much needed pedicure. (I still have sparkle nail polish on my toes from Halloween.)
5) Caught up on my DVR (new episode of "Once Upon A Time" -- it's soooooo good!!!).
6) Drank perfectly good boxed wine at home and not paid $8 for a glass of mediocre Zinfandel at a restaurant bar while watching CNN updates on the Penn State Pedophile.
7) Practiced piano. (Hey, it's a totally legitimate thing I could have done that would be time better spent than sitting alone at a bar.)
8) Taken a bubble bath while watching "Parks and Recreation" on Netflix.
9) Caught up on my blog. (Oh, well I guess that did work out in a way.)
10) Had a nice meal with a really cute guy.  Hmph.

At least I had a cupcake in the fridge.

LOFT Fall Dresses

Nov 7, 2011

Hello, dear readers.  It's been a while since we last met, but I really, really needed a break. Now that I've caught my breath, I have so much to tell you!

Diving right in...today I present to you the LOFT Dress Collection for Fall.  Since I am an entire size smaller this fall than last (yipee!) I've been on a shopping binge to fill out my wardrobe with clothes that aren't falling off of me (which begs the question: do I save those other clothes in case I once again become addicted to doughnuts, or do I Goodwill them as a warning to myself never to eat delicious, fried, glazed goodness again?).  Most of this shopping has happened at LOFT because they keep running promotions.  If there's one thing I've learned in the past month, it's don't buy anything at LOFT at full price, because next week it will be on sale.

Case in point: In the past two weeks I have bought four sweater dresses.  This morning my phone greeted me with an email alert, and when I opened it up I saw the fantastically dreadful subject line: "50% Off Dresses."  Fantastic because that's half off!!!  Dreadful because not only did I spend more than that, but I know I will go back and get more. (The bright side is I'll be too poor to eat, so I'll lose more weight!  Oh no, that's bad, it will just continue the cycle...)

Here's what I bought (I'm wearing the black one today!):


I have this one in brown and charcoal -- perhaps I should pick one color?


Get 'em while they're cheap!  And don't worry about the meager size selection online -- I've been to the stores and they are well stocked. ;)

BEST. CELEBRITY. MEETING. EVER.

Oct 10, 2011

No, it wasn't Britney Spears.  And sadly, most of my friends don't have a clue who he is.  But I -- I -- am still in disbelief.


That's General Ray Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the Army.  Do you have any idea how amazing he is?  AH-MAY-ZEENG. 

Part of living in DC for four years (exactly four years this month!) is being starstruck by our own brand of celebrity.  For many of my fellow Washingtonians, meeting President Obama would be top notch.  I sat in a room at the White House with the President.  It was really, really cool.  Really cool.  But this far and away tops it.

I knew he was coming over and I would have to tell him about the piece of the exhibit I was manning.  (Oh yeah, I'm working a convention this week, which is why I've been MIA on the blog.  After a mini-vacay at the end of this week I'll be back to normal, I promise.)  I practiced what I was going to say on anyone who would humor me.  I practiced my firm handshake.  I even practiced not raising my eyebrows and making weird facial expressions.  But I knew once I saw him coming toward me I was going to blank on everything.  I also knew I would then pull it together miraculously.

I have to credit all my online dating with this skill -- going on a first date is terrifying, and the same thing happens to me every time I'm walking up to the restaurant to meet the person: my stomach flips, my palms start sweating, all thoughts of conversation starters escape my mind...and then I take a deep breath, blow it out all the way through my feet and dive right in.  Then I either have a great conversation, feel too comfortable and talk too much, therefore blowing it; or I have a creepy/awkward/inappropriate conversation, feel completely annoyed and eat too much, therefore blowing it (but on purpose).

The moments between him turning to walk to me and  reaching me seemed like time was standing still, and then all the sudden he was in front of me, extending his hand to shake mine.  I noticed right before that my favorite CNN reporter, Barbara Starr, was with him and was walking over as well, which made me even more nervous.  I looked at his hand, keenly aware of the reporters and spectators, camera flashes going off and an unspeakable energy buzzing all around me.  This was it.

I tightened my wrist and thrust it forward, shaking his hand the manly way -- the way a woman must learn to shake if she wants to be taken seriously.  I locked eyes with him, said, "Sir, it's an honor to meet you," and then every other person, sound and motion disappeared.  "It's nice to meet you..." -- he looked at my name badge -- "Mary El."  After that, saying my spiel was no problem. 

And that is how I met the coolest general EVER.

But why oh why did that soldier have to get in the way of my photo op???!!!

(Follow him on Twitter at @GENRayOdierno and Facebook, because he's awesome.)

Always a bridesmaid...

Sep 7, 2011

The time has finally come for Raghav and Ashmi's wedding!  For those of you who don't know, Ashmi was my very first new friend when I moved to DC (and the reason I started this blog), and she is one of the few people I know who had a successful experience with online dating.  Not only is Raghav perfect on paper, he chose her without even seeing her picture.  I can't go into it too much because it's a large part of my speech at the reception, but ladies, you should be encouraged by this couple and know that yes, good guys (that you can be hot for) still exist.

I've never been in an Indian wedding so I'm not too sure what to expect, but I've been instructed to bring two outfits -- one for the Moroccan themed wedding party (I refer to it as "party" because I don't know what else to call it -- the invitation simply reads "wedding," but the ceremony is the next day...I'm so confused.) and a cocktail dress for the reception.  I'll be wearing a traditional sari for the ceremony, which means I'll be baring my midriff, SCARY.

Here's what I'll be packing:

1) I was going to use Rent the Runway and get this dress, but I waited too long.


Word to the wise (I never understood that expression, shouldn't it be word from the wise?), rent your dress at least a week before your event.  However, I happen to have a similar dress in my closet from Forever 21.  It's not Badgley Mischka, but it's the same color and only cost me $30. 

2) To fancy up the dress, I bought some new jewelry:



It's from Forever 21 as well, because I don't pay more than $10 for any piece of costume jewelry. 

3) I also bought new shoes from Macy's:


If I'm not spending money on a dress, you better believe I'm getting new shoes.  These are much sparklier than the picture shows. 

4) A black cocktail dress, my go-to dress for wedding these days, from Nordstrom Rack.  I don't have a photo, but trust me, it's awesome.  The last time I wore it, the groom's mother told her son, "Now that's the kind of girl you need to marry."  (Overheard and relayed to me.)

5) Sally Hansen Airbrush Legs. 


I hate tanning of any sort, especially self-tanner lotions and their nasty smells.  But this, my friends, is an amazing product.  It doesn't look orange or fake, it's water resistant and it has a light shimmer to make your legs look smooth and shiny.  If you get too much around your ankles, simply apply some body oil to a cotton ball and wipe it off.  It comes off in the shower when I shave my legs, I don't even have to scrub.  Best invention ever!  I'll be using it on my ghostly-white stomach that will still look ghostly white even with the tanning spray because I am the token white girl.  You can buy it at most drugstores (I got mine at CVS).

Not in my bag will be the sari that Ashmi had handmade in India:


I don't know how it works (she's already designated an auntie to help me) but it looks gorgeous!

Also not in my bag will be Noli, sad.  Lex, her boyfriend and Ashmi's doggie, will be at the wedding.  He now lives with her parents, so reunions are few.  I wish I could have brought her with me.

Lex

Noli without Lex

Noli when Lex is around

Noli thinking about Lex, wishing he were near

This is my seventh time being a bridesmaid (last time was Megan's wedding), but I'm not complaining.  I'm still a romantic and love attending weddings, especially to get ideas for if/when I have my own someday.  I think the No. 1 thing I'll be taking away from this one is....*drum roll please*...the mojito bar!  Genius idea, Ashmi. 

I survived the DC Earthquake and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

Aug 25, 2011

Someone had to make them, and here's where you can buy them:

They started out basic...

Buy HERE

Buy HERE

...and then the California jokes came...

Buy HERE

Buy HERE

...and then there were some discrepancies about who owned the earthquake...

Buy HERE

Buy HERE

....and more hilarity ensued...

Buy HERE



Buy HERE

Buy HERE

...but this was just mean.

Buy HERE ... or not.

DCEarthquakeageddonpocalypse

Aug 24, 2011

I learned something important about myself yesterday:


And Twitter is officially my news source for everything.

I was wearing my new red cigarette pants with four-inch black peep toe stilettos, walking around pretending my feet didn't hurt, like I was Joanie on "Mad Men" or something.  I'd just turn the cubicle corner to ask a coworker something -- and a senior person in my office had just stepped out, heading in my direction -- when the whole dang Pentagon began shaking. 

I froze, my swinging arms (the way Joanie does it) suspended in the air.  So did he.  We locked eyes, searching for the answer from one another to what we should do.  Anything that was on a surface was rattling violently, the printer threatening to fall on top of me, but I didn't move a hair, didn't even teeter on those ridiculous heels.  I just stared at him, not thinking for a second that it might be slightly awkward.  At first I thought, "Earthquake?" but in a nanosecond my mind went to "TERRORIST ATTACK."  It felt like at least a full minute (what was it, 10 seconds?), and I didn't hear anything but the rattling...

When it stopped I came back into reality.  I heard sirens, people shouting to check for smoke, dozens of feet running in the hallways.  I darted to my desk and pulled up Twitter.  I knew Twitter would tell me what had happened.  "Uhh, did an earthquake just hit DC?" I tweeted.  Moments later I got the responses -- YES.  And my friends in New York and Philly were tweeting about it just as quickly as I was. 

We were evacuated a few seconds later, which provided a nice sunshine break while everyone chatted and laughed nervously about what had just happened.  Once we were allowed back inside, I had to rush off to an offsite meeting, so I walked to the Metro, waited for a while and finally got on a very crowded train that was reminiscent of the first day back to work after the Snowpocalypse of 2010.  The biggest difference?  It was sweaty, which in turn made it smelly, but the really cool thing about an event like this is people seem to come together to help one another out, and everyone was laughing, cracking jokes and freely talking to strangers. 

While on the long Metro ride to my meeting (the trains were running very slow, but kudos to WMATA for keeping them going!), the emotional aftershocks hit me.  I'd been reading funny tweets for the last hour and enjoying the comaraderie, but suddenly it began to sink in that I thought I was in the midst of a terrorist attack.  Not only do I work in the building in DC that was struck almost exactly 10 years ago, I work in the hallway, by the memorial, where the tour guides stop every hour and announce, "You're standing where the plane hit on 9/11." 

And then I realized, if it had been a terrorist attack, I would have just frozen, like when that dude pulled out a gun and I thought I was being shot.  What did I do?  I stood in the middle of 14th Street and waited to be hit.  One of my readers commented that it's called being "galvanized."  So now I can't get that Chemical Brothers song out of my head, which is stressing me out even more.  (Why can't I have "I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet" in my head like normal people?)

What's even more disturbing is I didn't even think about poor Noli until I'd thoroughly freaked my own self out.  (She was okay, just pooped on the floor.  Apparently the asinine emergency situation responses are passed down from mother to pup -- this is how normal animals react, and it doesn't include pooping!)

In the interest of not freaking myself out any more than necessary, here are my favorite tweets from yesterday:

@docshuga Can we start looting yet? #dcearthquake #allyourfriendsaredead #sunnyafternoon #lavaeverywhere

@KJinDC7 I can't believe I did that. With my MIND!!! #earthquake

@Gunservatively: BREAKING: OBAMA SAYS IN STATEMENT THAT VIRGINIA EARTHQUAKE WAS BUSH'S FAULTLINE.

@heylovedesigns I feel the earth (woo!) move (yea!) under my feet!

@rachaelgk My #DCquake thought process: 1. TWEET!!! 2. Oh crap, hide. 3. CHECK TWITTER!!!! 4. Damn, my @klout's gonna rock tomorrow.

@ALLIEgDC MSNBC says the Washington monument is leaning to left. Fox news says its to the right. #earthquake

@malitzd new york - don't even. this was our quake. #dc

@iDineDC I just survived an earthquake...damn right I'm eating the rest of my dove chocolate bar!

@cheeky_geeky BREAKING: Owen Wilson gives all east coast earthquake victims a Hall Pass to do whatever they want for 24 hours.

@DCQuake: East coast: "Holy crap." West Coast: "Amateurs". Midwest: "You still can't drive in the snow."

(Yeah, that's right, someone set up a Twitter account just for the DC Earthquake.)

Lastly, Californians: Quit bustin' my chops already.  It was traumatizing, okay?!  I'll be interested to see how all of you fare the next time a hurricane or tornado hits your coast.  Hmph.

UPDATED WITH WINNER: No more excuses (GIVEAWAY BELOW!)

Aug 18, 2011

My days of being lazy are over.  I had wonderful reasons why I shouldn't exercise -- like a sprained ankle that wouldn't heal, chronic bronchitis, fatigue, stress, and boobs, apparently (a friend reminded me of that excuse a couple of days ago, a classic one I used years ago when we lived in the same state and she'd try to get me to go jogging with her). 

But I was caught off guard by a woman in an Army uniform who I work for -- intimidating, right?  She basically ordered me to begin training for the Army PT (Physical Training) Test in November. 

"Mary El," she said, menacingly.  "The Army PT test is coming up and you're eligible to take it.  Maybe we can get a few of the other girls in the office to participate too."  The glint in her eye shot through me like an arrow.  Take the Army PT test?  Is she crazy?!  I had a flashback to the last time a soldier talked me into doing PT with him and a bunch of drill sergeants.  Sure, no one made fun of me, but goodness gracious I was terrible. 

"Uhhh..." I cowered, trying to buy time and form a response that would get me out of it.  "My ankle."  It's all I could muster.

"I thought your ankle was better?  You wear heels all the time now," she said, sneering at me.

"Uhhh...it's too hot."

"Then use a treadmill!  And anyway, the heat wave is supposed to break in a couple of days.  Come on, you can do this," she insisted.

"I, uh, you know, stress and all, uh, and my neighborhood isn't as nice as it used to be, and uh..."

"Just run through a park, there are trails everywhere!  Isn't there a trail near you?"

What is this, an interrogation?!  I thought.  "Oh right, I'll just run through the one Chandra Levy was buried in.  No worries."

"I actually run through that park all the time," she giggled...I mean cackled. 

I finally agreed, thinking that I could just say yes and then not train and when PT Test Day arrived I'd say, "Whoops! TOTALLY forgot to train for this.  Maybe next year!"

But later that day, after returning from a meeting, I found a training schedule lying on my desk with the words "START AUGUST 15" written on the top and circled in yellow highlighter, not to mention all the chiding comments written throughout, like "You can do this!" and "Take this part easy, you'll build up to it!"

That night I considered it, and then I realized that my sole New Year's Resolution for 2011 was to get back in shape.  Ugh.  So I dug out my Nikes, which are still in good condition because two months into running last year I sprained my ankle and stopped wearing them, bought a new, cute t-shirt from Target as an incentive, and on August 16th I went for my first run in a year (hey, I was only one day late, that's acceptable).

Turns out picking up running again is just like picking up riding a bicycle again.  Almost immediately I felt strong, powerful, energetic and skinny, and a dull headache that had been bugging me all day disappeared.  Back at home I had to do as many push-ups (the girlie kind) and sit-ups as I could in 30 seconds (it was about 10 each).  Training is every other day, which means today I go again.  This afternoon a familiar feeling came over me -- I was looking forward to getting home to change into my little running shorts, cute Target t-shirt and running shoes and pound the pavement.  And miraculously I feel less fatigued after one just one day of running than I usually do when I take it easy catching up on "Toddlers & Tiaras" (that Eden Wood is such a Mean Girl in training) and "Design Star" (I lurv making fun of the obnoxiously fake host) in the evenings.

Another thing I was reminded of, which is a big lesson I learned from last year's ankle injury, is to listen to my body.  A running guru works down the hall, and I filled him in on my first day of training earlier. 

"Did you have any pain?" he asked.

"Just in my right shin, I get shin splints so easily.  But I just ran through it."  As soon as the words came out of my mouth I realized that's the same thing I did when I sprained my ankle last summer, and then it took 10 months for the dang thing to heal.

"Don't do that again," he said.  "Next time you go for a run, warm up with a five-minute walk then run for one minute only.  Walk for four minutes then run for one.  Do that until you finish.  You may feel like you can do more, but hold back until you build up the muscles you need to support this new activity."

So tonight that is the plan, as well as more push-ups (still on my knees, but hopefully I'll be able to crank out one real one by PT Test Day) and sit-ups. I also plan to treat myself to something yummy, like chocolate covered peanut brittle from Trader Joe's, and a delicious (and pretty!) sports drink, whichever color I'm in the mood for.  I recently got turned on to Neuro Drinks, but due to lack of calorie burnage I thought I shouldn't drink them too much (champagne, on the other hand, is always acceptable).  I'm a total dum dum, because they're only 35 calories each and are loaded with vitamins, plus different elements that support whatever mood you're in. 

Aren't they pretty? Yummy too.

Tonight I'll be drinking Neuro Trim, in case you were wondering, because the other selling point on beginning training now is I forgot I'm in Ashmi's wedding in less than a month and I have to wear a midriff-bearing saree.  SCARY!

If you'd like to follow my training schedule, you can download it here.

And if you'd like to try Neuro Drinks for yourself, you can buy them here.  I'm also giving away a case of them to one fitness-minded reader!  Here's three ways to win:

1) Tweet about me (@CupcakesDC) and Neuro Drinks (@DrinkNeuro) -- something good, you're not gonna win if you tell me I'm going to fail miserably, even though I probably will.

2) Comment below on why now is a good time to get in shape, or how I inspire you to do so.

3) Like "Cupcakes and Shoes" and "DrinkNeuro" on Facebook, and tag us in a Facebook post telling us how and why you stay fit.

(If you're wondering, yes, this is a ploy to get all the encouragement I possibly can so I will actually go through with this.) 

I'll announce a winner next Friday, August 26, 2011.  Spread the word!

***********************

Due to technical difficulties during the non-hurricane in DC, I wasn't able to update this on Friday.  But I'm happy to announce that we have a winner!  Chosen at random from everyone's names written on folded up pink Post-Its (I'm Old School, what can I say?), the winner of the Neuro Drinks Giveaway is...

Maureen

Email me with your contact info and I'll send you a case of Neuro Drinks!  Enjoy!

DC's teensy dating problem

Jul 29, 2011

Over the past four years I've been on countless blind dates -- online dating sites, set ups, Twitter -- and a handful of normal ones, you know, where you meet someone in a way that makes you think, If this works out we'll have a great story to tell our grandkids.  I came to the conclusion a while ago that the latter way was the best way to go.  The problem is, not many of those chance encounters happen, and I can go about three months without going on a date before I start to get reeeeeeeally antsy and the sick and twisted magnetism of eHarmony begins to pull me in like a moth to a flame.  Its promises of meeting that perfect match become so enticing that I find myself daydreaming about skipping meals to pay for the membership.  This time it'll work, I assure myselfUsually my good sense kicks in and I either find a date on OK Cupid ('cause it's free) or remind myself that long ago I made Joanna promise me she would cut my hands off if I ever signed up on an online dating site again.

What I imagine
Reality. I'm fairly certain I've dated all these guys, even the last one.
These thoughts were going through my head as I sat alone at a table at Cantina Marina last night, waiting for some friends to show up for a happy hour.  I was early and they were late, so I had 45 minutes to be available for hitting on.  Unfortunately the only reading material I had was a Cosmo, and I was afraid of giving off the wrong impression, so sipped on an overly sweet margarita and waited for someone to strike up a conversation with me.  (I read a couple of years ago that by sitting alone at a bar you make yourself accessible to men, and it's a sure way to attract attention.  This has never worked for me, hence all the online dating.)

About 15 minutes into it an older man (I mean in his 70s, not older in the sense that I would consider dating him if he had a good job and kids that lived with their mother) approached me and invited me to join his group of South Carolinians living in DC.

"I'm holding this table for my friends, so I better not leave, but thank you!" I replied.  Then I noticed the younger guy who had turned around and was smiling at me.  It was instantly clear that the older man was breaking the ice for this guy, whose name was Jack*

*Not really his name, but just go with it. 

Why I Became So Interested:

1) The older man was in seersucker and had a Charleston accent.  I lived in Charleston for six years as a child, and talking to him evoked feelings of true, genteel Southern hospitality, like the time a man in a pink sport coat called down to my mother and me as we passed his century-old waterfront home and invited us in for a tour.  It would be creepy here, but there it was super charming.  When I told this man I'd lived on James Island, he said, "Jimmy Isle!"  Listening to him talk felt like a home from long ago that I'd forgotten about. 

2) Both of the men work in PR, my career field.  PR professionals are networkers by trade, but when you meet others in PR you are conditioned to get into hyper-networking mode in case you could help each other out job-wise one day. 

3) I realized my accessibility plan was finally working.   Why hadn't it worked before?  All I had to do was toss my hair and sip a drink, and the guys would come flocking.  I was definitely doing this more often.

The Warning Signs:

1) Jack was wearing a wool jacket on a deck by the water in 90-degree heat and high humidity.  Now that I think of it, he wasn't sweating, which is kinda weird.

2) He told me he was "between jobs."  I wrote it off because I was completely seduced by the idea that I was in the midst of a chance encounter.

3) He is from New Mexico, not South Carolina.  He just went to grad school in South Carolina.  Imposter!

If you're a guy, at this point you're thinking I'm picky.  Let me state for the record that I will go out once with just about anyone.  But a girl's got to maintain some kind of standards, and when our conversation took a certain direction, I had to draw the line.

"You should join the *Anyone Who Has a Vague Connection to South Carolina and Now Lives in DC* club!" The Imposter told me. 

"Yeah, maybe.  I'm a part of some other social clubs in DC.  My favorite is Girls Night Out DC," I said.  (On Twitter: #gnoDC.  Check it out!)

"Then you must know *So and So*," he said, mentioning a girl I do in fact know. 

I laughed.  How funny that we would find a connection so quickly!  "Yes I do know her, she knows everyone.  The quintessential networker.  I used to work with this super obnoxious guy who claimed he was friends with her, but I think a lot of that was in his head." 

I described the former coworker and his antics a little more, and The Imposter cocked his head and said, "He sounds a lot like my friend Jack..."

The former coworker's name was Jack.  "Jack Taylor?" I asked, mortified.

"Yes!" he exclaimed.  "He's my best friend.  But I can see how he could be annoying to work with." 

"Well, okay then!" I said, reaching for my melting margarita for momentary escape.   An image of Jack the Obnoxious Coworker in a bright Hawaiian shirt and loafers with no socks and a really chestery mustache he'd been working on for two weeks flashed through my head. Then it hit me -- Jack the Imposter was probably just like Jack the Obnoxious Coworker, thinking he was friends with *So and So* and flaunting it every chance he got.  Let me tell you about *So and So* -- she's a gorgeous blonde with a hot body who is personable, articulate, witty, sharp and so fantastic that as a woman you can't hate her even though you want to reeeeally bad.  The girl has got it goin' on, and she's super friendly to boot.  Not the type of girl who would ever make an awkward guy feel bad about himself if he, say, hit on her at a social event or tried to talk to her via social media channels.

But Jack the Imposter didn't look super cheesy like Jack the Obnoxious Coworker, and he was good looking enough -- nothing a good personality, charm and chivalry couldn't make up for.  So I decided not to write him off just yet.

"Since you know Jack Taylor, maybe you also know Jack Wilson," he went on. 

Margarita went down my windpipe and I coughed.  Jack Wilson was a guy I sort of went out with a couple of times a couple of years ago, but that ended when we were at 18th Street Lounge with a group of friends, I excused myself to go to the ladies room, and he took that opportunity to blatantly hit on another girl.  When I came back to the sofa we had all put our jackets on purses on, he was on the dance floor, grinding on the girl right in front of me.  I promptly exited the building and heard later that one of the guys with us confronted him and Jack Wilson tried to start a fight with that guy and then was kicked out.  Then he had the nerve to text me the next day asking me out again.

"Uh, yes, I know Jack Wilson." I said, worried about what was coming next.

"We all hang out together all the time," Jack the Imposter explained.  "We call ourselves 'The Tri-Jack-Ta.'" 

That's when I decided to write him off.  Call me presumptuous, but if he's BFF with two guys who I can't stand, it's not going to work. I expected him to draw that conclusion when I told him I thought Jack Wilson was a Grade A Jerk, but the Imposter continued to talk about Grade A Jerk and what a great guy he is, emphasizing that he'd changed since he began dating his current girlfriend, who I found out I also happen to know.

The girls finally arrived, and we quickly got caught up in our own conversation, so Jack the Imposter walked away.  I figured we had a mutual, unspoken understanding about the unfortunate situation.  But a few minutes later he walked back over.

"Did you text *So and So* and tell her that you met me?" he asked eagerly.

"No..."

"Really?  I'll text her that I met you then." 

This was starting to get awkward.  For all I know, *So and So* may be bosom buddies with these guys.  But I really, really doubt it, and there was no way I was bugging her with a text exclaiming that I'd just met the third and final point of the Tri-Jack-Ta.  About that time I remembered I had dinner plans and had to run, so I said good-bye to everyone and left.  I did not exchange numbers, business cards, Twitter handles or blog names with Jack the Imposter.  But apparently I gave him my full name, because late last night I received a Facebook friend request from him.

Really?!  Not only that, but I noticed we have even more mutual friends than what we realized last night. 

It may be time for me to move to a new city. The dating pool has officially gotten too small.

Fashion Trailblazer

Jul 28, 2011

This is what I have to deal with at work:


Meet the man who said he would marry me.  How could I ever compete with this awesomeness? 

Those pants are seersucker, BTW.

Moving Disaster 2011

Jul 26, 2011

"Anyone want to marry me?" I loudly propositioned my entire office. 

"I'll marry you!" a nearby cubemate answered.  I scooted my chair back to see him smiling at me, coffee in hand and mis-matched plaid shirt and striped tie -- not to mention wedding ring -- glaring at me. 

"Thanks, but you won't work.  You're too short." 

He snickered and asked why I was looking for a husband.

"Muscles," I explained.  You see, Moving Disaster 2011 was about to be in full swing, and my arms, already tired from simply packing and carrying boxes from trash bins to my apartment, were not going to last much longer.  I was quite put out by the whole event because, even though a Cupcakes and Shoes reader hooked me up with an ab fab apartment, there would be a two-day gap between moving out of my old one and into the new one, thus tripling my moving expenses.  Essentially I'd be paying for two moves plus two days of storage.  My options were: a) Use all my savings; b) Re-rack up credit card debt; or c) Ask for help.  The first two options were looking great.  As an independent woman, I was NOT going to ask male friends for help.  No way. 

But if I could find a husband in the next few days, now that would be ideal.  Boyfriends can get out of these sort of things (the last one was conveniently in Germany when I needed moving help), but husbands are required to help -- nay, lead, direct and execute the entire thing.  I usually am not sad about being single, but I was suddenly feeling very, very alone in the world. 

I was telling all this to my friend Sharon over pedis when I found myself crying.  The young girl pounding on my calf muscle stopped and handed me a tissue.  *Note to all of you: never cry during a pedicure because the pedicurist will speed through it to get away from you.

"Don't worry, my brother-in-law will help you, and you must have some guy friends who can pitch in," Sharon offered.

The idea was enticing, but honestly I don't really have that many guy friends because of my stupid principles (I believe I'm too old for male friends, and at this stage in life men and women can't be just friends, and really they never could, but in our youth we could at least pretend and then cry our eyes out when we had to stand at the altar on the groom's side supporting our "friend" who we've decided in that moment is not only "The One" but also "The One Who Got Away" and we will probably die sad and alone.) 

But somehow (somehow = Sharon's brother-in-law rounded up a couple of guys and a slew of my blogger friends came over and made a party of out of it) more than enough people showed up, and we knocked it out in time and then had a BBQ at A Single Girl's house.

Of course there were a few glitches.

Glitch No. 1: Picking up the U-Haul.  A Single Girl drove me to the U-Haul and dropped me off.  She was helping her roommate move a mattress right after, so she couldn't stick around.  I walked up to the counter and asked for the truck I had reserved online. 

"We don't have your reservation," the woman behind the desk told me.

I knew something would go wrong, I thought, my mind flashing back to Moving Disasters 2010 and 2009 respectively. (Hmm, I just noticed I didn't write about 2010 for a month and 2009 at all.  Now I don't feel so bad for waiting a month to write about this one.  I also now see that moving gives me serious writer's block.)

"But it's okay, we've got a truck you can use." I sighed and thanked her, and laughed at myself for expecting the worst.  "Just need to see your driver's license."

I'd just had it renewed -- thank goodness I got that done in time! -- and I was all ready to tell her, "Don't mind the scowl on my photo!  I think it's so unfair they won't let you smile anymore," when I realized I didn't have it.  And I knew exactly where I'd left it: in my wallet.  That's right, I didn't bring my wallet with me.  I had two colors of lip gloss but no wallet.  I had Tylenol and an emergency migraine pill but no wallet.  I even had a credit card...but no wallet.

I called A Single Girl -- because I had my phone AND phone charger but no wallet -- and she said she'd come back.  So not only did she miss helping her roommate, she had to drive the U-Haul, plus they wouldn't take my credit card without an ID, so she also paid for it.

Glitch No. 2: I wasn't finished packing and I had no more boxes.  Why why WHY must I wait until the last minute to get stuff done?  The Friday before the move I emptied all the paper boxes in the office, and a coworker collected other boxes from other offices in our hallway.  I lugged at least 20 of those things (broken down) home on the Metro during rush hour on a Friday, yes I did.  I had no idea boxes were so heavy.  Or could hold so little.  Or maybe I have too much stuff.

In the end we were wrapping furniture with my living room throws (picking off pieces of masking tape from Dry Clean Only blankets was a fun little task the following week) and dumping everything else into trash bags.  For all I know stuff that was not trash was thrown away in the midst of the chaos, but at this point it's a blessing.  I have GOT to downsize.

Somehow (and we've already established what "somehow" means) it all got packed.  Except...

Glitch No. 3: It wouldn't all fit in the U-Haul.  Sharon's brother-in-law found me frantically stuffing throw towels into a trash bag and gave me a sickly smile. 

"Do you have a back-up plan?"

"Back-up plan?  What?  I got the 'One Bedroom Apartment' truck!" I said, feeling faint. 

"Well, I don't know what to say, but it's almost full and you've still got a lot of stuff."

I peeked out in the hallway and my heart sank.  I'd been so busy finishing packing that I hadn't paid any attention to the actual moving of the furniture.  The long hallway leading to the elevators was lined with boxes, furniture, plastic bins and of course bags.  And let's not forget my Pretty Schwinn, which is so pretty. It could not be left behind. 

So I went downstairs to the truck, for some reason thinking I could fix the problem.  That's when I ran into Sassy Marmalade.  "Don't worry," she said, seeing the fear in my eyes.  "I'm awesome at Tetris." 

Apparently so were Dating DC and Noe (plus another non-blogger friend, Y).  Check it out, y'all:

Girl Power!

Everything but the bicycle fit, but one of the guys took it apart and shoved it in the front seat.  I was so impressed.  But we weren't done with glitches yet.

Glitch No. 4: It all fit, but the door wouldn't shut.  I had to drop off the U-Haul at my new landlord's house where it would sit for two days before I could move into my new apartment (with hired movers, thank goodness), and only Dating DC could drive a stick shift (my car), so she stayed behind while everyone else went home or to the BBQ.  Together we hoisted the ramp back into its slot, and then I pulled down the door, but it wouldn't go down all the way.  I rolled it back up and rearranged some items we'd stuffed on the top and tried again.  No success.  Dating DC tried to no avail.  We kept at it for at least 10 minutes, and then a man walked toward us, not to help us but to go into the building.  I looked lustfully at him -- his man muscles, his man brain, his sheer manliness that would surely be the answer to our problem, as it was the answer to all the world's problems, or so I felt at that moment.  Dating DC didn't say anything, but as my mouth opened to pull out the Southern accent secret weapon and ask for his man help, our woman ESP sixth sense thing kicked in, and my mouth shut.  I walked back over to the truck, and like magic I noticed the ramp wasn't in all the way, and that's what was causing the door to not shut. 

"That was a close one," she said, smiling at me.  "I really thought you were going to break down and ask him for help." 

As I drove that big truck down 14th Street, across the bridge and into Del Ray, I felt strong, powerful and capable of overcoming just about anything.  I highly recommend driving a U-Haul if you ever get the chance.  It's awesome.

And so are girlfriends. Back at A Single Girl's house, we chowed down on burgers and drank fruity drinkies, and with the sun setting behind us we all knew we'd accomplished something huge together that day.

But Moving Disaster 2011 wasn't over...

...and I'm not even going there because it was so awful. (It included movers peeing on my toilet seat and me throwing out the Comcast guy.) I'd really just like to forget it and remember the nice moments with my helpful friends.  The end.