Friday, January 15, 2010

Freaky Friday

Not quite sure what to make of this yet - but throwin it out there anyway. Happy Friday Ya'll!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Operation Frequent Flier: A Public Service Announcement

Look - I love a good freebie. Who doesn't? But with years of flying between coasts as often as 8 times a year, not including my other beltway exodus', I have honed my skills on how to score free airline tickets. Now I have to preface this by saying, this is how I do it, I know there are other ways the masters, like John Matthews, practice their craft. I just thought I would share the wealth.

Operation Frequent Flier: The Jen Richer Plan
(These are the basics. I'll do an advanced appendix later)

There are 3 major airline alliances.Look at this for a quick and dirty graph. The deal is you pick an airline in each alliance that you fly the most and sign up for their frequent flier (ff) program. Anytime you fly an airline in that alliance you give them your ff # for the partner that you are signed up for. Then when you go to book your reward travel you have all your points in one spot. If the airline that you are a member of doesn't fly where you want to go, they will do a codeshare and book a ticket with a partner airline for you.

For example: I am a member of United for Star alliance but often I fly USAIR instead (cheaper). But because my account is with united and they are in the same alliance I give them my United # and book my reward flights through United. For One World I am with American, and for Sky Team I do Continental. The two that aren't alliances that I have in addition to these three are Jet Blue and Southwest. It's super easy to find the application on all of these sites. Hit the home page and look for the frequent flier program tab, and sign up is usually the first option in the drop down.

When looking for tickets sure I use cheap tickets,, and priceline for ticket research but I NEVER buy tickets from them. They are deeply discounted and won't let you count them for miles. Instead I look to see how much the tickets are and go back to the airline sites, use Kayak, or or I usually can find the same price, or cheaper,  if I fiddle with the options, flex dates, etc. It's also important to remember what you save in the short term on tickets from the previous sites you lose big in reward travel. I just booked my $1,500 ticket to Brazil and Argentina for FREE with American Air. Just sayin'.

Other ways to rack up miles. 

Do you shop online? Are you willing to click a link from an email a couple times a day? Join mypoints. All you have to do is sign up for their emails - I get maybe 2 or 3 a day and click the 'see this offer.' I never sign up for anything but those points can be cashed in for miles. Shop at office depot? Ebay? Go to the homepage first and see if they have a partnership( 'earn points tab'). (The ones I mentioned do) and all you have to do is click through to those vendors and shop like you would normally. I get about 5,000 miles every 6 months doing stuff I would already be doing.

Many of the ff programs also have the option to link your grocery store member cards too to get a few extra points while shopping. Also use your ff# when staying in a hotel or renting a car and get both points with them and airline miles.

Take Your Blessing Where You Can Get Them

Talk about a close call. As most of you know, my girlfriends and I just returned last week from quite the little adventure down in the Dominican Republic. Those tales and pictures are to come, but this morning we woke to some terrible news: a 7.0 earthquake that shook the hell out of Hispaniola, the island shared by the DR and Haiti.

Being a San Diego girl, (California breaking off in to the ocean blah, blah, blah) I know hairy earthquakes, but we expect them and have built accordingly. Our Caribbean friends have other natural concerns - like hurricanes to deal with. (Which still scare the daylights out of me.) Not-to-mention a 7.0 is still HUGE! They didn't see it coming.

Now the details are starting to surface. I had one mother call the newsroom this morning. Her son was able to escape and send this email back stateside. Thank goodness for this near miss.

Dear Family and Friends,

Thanks for all the kind words.  I climbed out of my 4th story apt as it was collapsing and was happy my four other colleagues from State got out alright too.  One guy from UN had some leg injuries but we carried him when we got out.  Some Haitians and I were fortunate to pull out a woman and her daughter just as a slight
tremor hit a second time, but I am so glad they got out safely. All of us in our apt complex lost everything and got out with the clothes on our backs (a couple of us not even with that!)

We spent the night in the surprising cool Haitian night air and felt unnerving tremors and collapsing structures all night.  The State Dpt military attache's house was pretty much intact so he gave us supplies and his front yard to sleep in (away from walls and other buildings.)  The neighboring four story apt was flattened like a ham sandwich.

It has been so hard to see a people already suffering difficult conditions to now be hit by this kind of devastation.  As we faded in and out of sleep and conversation under the dark and starry night sky we could hear people in the lower lamds wailing with each tremor, often singing prayerful songs, clapping or chanting.  It was eerie, terrifying and beautiful at the same time.  The roads we took to get us back to the Embassy were amazingly calm and many structures we standing but we heard that in other neighborhoods houses simply caved in.

I'm back at the Embassy now raiding the caf for something to eat and seeing all the wreckage (it got hit too
but the building is new and entirely intact.)  My clothes and hair are full of dust and I look like, well, I've been in an earthquake.

  But it has been amazing to see the spirit of the Haitian people in light of this disaster.  
I will need to pitch in for the time being and there is talk of evacuation which I can't see how they could not (there is little safe housing and virtually no hotels.)   I have been thinking so much about my family, loved ones and dear friends who mean and have meant so much to me.  Thank you again for your thoughts.

Peace and know that I am thinking of you!

Monday, January 11, 2010

From The Desk Of Mark Weaver

Even the guys in the newsroom are trying to set me up. Swell.
Thanks Mark!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Well Played!

Last night, Linds, me and about 100 other stage-junkies made the arduous trek, in the snow, out to Arena Stage Theater to see Stick Fly. By "trek" I mean we took our building elevator to the basement and walked through the covered, heated tunnel to the theater. But kudos to everyone else who braved the snow - it was a full house.

Let me just get this out of the way: I loved, loved, loved Stick Fly. Set in Martha's Vineyard - two brothers bring their girlfriend and fiance to meet the fam on an annual vacation. Obviously the family is well to-do but unlike the rest of the WASP island community - they are black.

Now race issue is definitely a part of the plot - but the there is a more universal connection to this witty comedy - it's family. We all know these characters - maybe you are one yourself - but even the opening scene when the housekeeper comes bopping down the stairs rocking to your ipod - you're hooked.

Cruising through two hours of side-splitting wise cracks, no really, I haven't laughed that hard since seeing Robin Williams, the family reunion raises serious questions about race relations and family dysfunctions. Now how is that funny? Because you feel like you're watching The Cosby Show, only the Huxtables have a few skeletons.

With zingers on the ease of prepping regular verses decaf coffee from the well-educated housekeeper to her solving the trivial persuit stumper question then quickly shooting back "what? I can't know that?"

Or the"Italian" (euphemism for white) girlfriend with a masters thesis on inner-city race relations trying to high five the brilliant but frosty fiance, on their common taste in literature, only to be left hanging by Taylor, still embittered by her alienation at Harvard by the "Becky's," (other WASPs.)

No let's talk stage presence. Aside from the hottie and equally awesome yale trained Billy Eugene Jones, playing Flip (the brother dating the "Italian"), the cast was dead on. There are several charged monologues that pivot the plot on a dime (don't want to spoil anything for you) but the two leading ladies, Amber Iman and Nikkole Salter, nailed them. Not just blasting through the lines, BTW we're talking 10 minute ass-ripping monologues - but they hit all the subtle nuances, and not so subtle tensions dug up by the racial and economical disparities, and good-old-fashioned family drama between the characters. It completely rocked the audience. Literally - one minute you're aching in compassion for the ladies - the next your doubled over in giggles - and then with a snap - right back.

By curtain call - we were on our feet in full applause - yes -before the cast made it to the stage.

If you're interested here are the details: Stick Fly runs January 1 – February 7, 2010 at Arena
Stage in Crystal City.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

All That...And They Cook!

So for new years one of my strategies is to get back into cooking. I get so busy that I've sidelined one of my favorite hobbies for about a year - opting for the same Subway sandwich (Turkey on Honey Oat) or whatever I can slap together from the pantry and run, or worse - depend on the pub. Not that I have anything against the pub - their food is actually really good - but it's killing my waistline.

So Linds and I are reinstating the menu board, the chalkboard in our kitchen, where we list the week's menu and take turns cooking. Who knows, maybe we'll even get back into our Sunday night traditional "hearth dinners!"

Last night for dinner I busted out one of my favorite recipes: Salmon with Dijon Dill Sauce over a bed of garlic sauteed spinach and a side of broccoli rice and for dessert Linds made Peach Jello Parfait. The recipe for the Salmon I got from Real Simple (below). The spinach is super easy, just saute raw spinach in a pan with a little garlic powder and extra virgin olive oil until its soft. And I cheated with the rice - it's from Target's knock off version of Rice-a-roni. But it was really good and I was short on time. Linds said she got the parfait recipe right off the jello box. The perk with that is it works out to be a whopping 40 calories and served in a little wine glass, it was perfect.

Salmon with Dijon Dill Sauce

  • 4 6-ounce salmon fillets, skin removed
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnishing
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Set broiler on high. Place the salmon on a foil-lined broiler pan and season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Broil until the salmon is the same color throughout and flakes easily, 7 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, over medium-high heat, heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter until it melts. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and whisk in the mustard, dill, pepper, and the remaining salt. Remove from heat.
  3. Cut the remaining butter into pieces, add to the sauce, and whisk until incorporated. Place the salmon on individual plates, spoon the sauce over the top, and sprinkle with additional dill.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book Report: Just Keep Reading

It’s funny - when I started Eat, Pray, Love, I was under a lot of stress and I was looking for a quick light read, something to escape to. It seemed like everyone and their sister had read it and I picked it up over the summer and added it to the NEED TO READ ASAP basket next to my bed. (Just role with it… It’s one of my gagillion systems.) Instead I found this book to be quite the challenge.

Elizabeth Gilbert starts by painting her us her hell – she hit rock bottom. Her career, marriage, and self respect were in shambles and she spends 100 pages navigating us through her self loathing. I’ll admit – I found her tale of despair irritating, 90% of her woes were related to her attitude of the situation - I wanted to punch her for whining about it. Now, I idolize strong willed, outspoken, brazen women. Not whiners. But I kept reading. Not sure why but I did.

She divides the book into three parts from there on. She takes 3 trips over the next year to help patch her self esteem though self discovery, gastronomic escapism, and travel. It didn’t help hush the Maureen Dowd in me, when I found out that in the cesspool of her plight she was getting an advance for a book about her journey. Of course she’s going to find serenity - she’s going to get paid for it. But I found myself still reading the darn thing.

Off she goes to Italy for four months. Now this part I loved. She took one of my dream vacations - learning to study Italian in Rome for 4 months - what’s not to love? As she describes the food, the men, the culture, my guard starts to melt. A part that sticks out was a conversation she had with her delicious Italian tutor. He makes the case that- if you could deduce Rome to one word, it would be Sex, New York: Success. As she scrambles to find her word - I can’t help but try to think of mine Flexible? Family? Mouthy? Brash? I couldn’t find my word. That was 3 months ago. I put the book down and had to focus on other things - work, more work, and coordinating the holidays.

Then while I was packing for our vacation to the Dominican I threw 4 months worth of magazine subscriptions (the news related ones are the only ones I have time to keep current with: Economist, The Week, Atlantic, etc) and in case that wasn’t enough I tossed in Eat Pray Love.

Literally walking off the plane from a week whirlwind in San Diego for the holidays, changing suitcases after work, and walking back onto the plane I realized the last time I had some quality alone - hands free time was on our cruise. That was in August. While sitting on the planes I’ve been working out my 2010 strategy (I don’t do resolutions - I strategize,) I realized I have put a lot of things on hold - my grad school application, my fitness program , my blog, - hell just cooking has been shelved and my waistline serves as a reminder. Maybe that’s why I picked EPL back up.

I left the magazines in my carry on and I rejoined Lizzy’s journey. I was still a little bitter about her weaknesses compassion is a strong suite for me -- sympathy is not. That is to say - I feel your pain - I can see your point, but I don’t feel bad for you. But I kept reading.

I rejoined her, I on a soft canvas pillow on a beach lounger in the Dominican Republic - she on a dusty mat in an Indian Ashram. I hate the touchy feely spiritual pursuit. I’m catholic - not of the book totin’ persuasion - but a relatively good one. And like Lizzy, I do yoga too- but the second we move out of the Hatha Yoga instructions and into the “unite your body and spirit” talk - I’m gone. Checked out - doing my grocery list in my head and racking my brain to confirm I Tivo-ed 60 minutes. When we’re “meditating,” I’m taking a cat nap - gotta get those in when you can - so this next chapter was really hard for me. But I kept reading.

She introduces a friend she makes - a Texas man who has the bluntness of Helen Thomas and the charm of Clint Eastwood. I like him. Lizzy wails over losing her soul mate and he calls her out on it – one point for Texas. But in holding up mirror to her face, metaphorically speaking, he makes a really write-that-down point: he says very few people meet their soul mate - and even fewer stay with them. Their purpose is not to complete you - but to open your soul to the ability to love deeply. If that’s the case - time to change the e-harmony profile. I’m only half kidding.

Then we hit Bali - here she is reuniting with the muse that sent her on this journey - an old medicine man who predicated from her palm - she would be back in two years to live with him. Instead she meets her love. Game, Set, Match. And from the way she describes him - I would fall in love with this guy too. He’s a Brazilian expat living in Bali and his kids are in Australia. He’s adventurous, international, blunt, focused, and cultured, and if he’s anything like the Brazilians I know - he’s beautiful. Time to start shopping in Bali.

I’m glad I kept reading and I have to be honest - I say this begrudgingly - I liked the book. I love her writing style - writing as if we’re girlfriends. Heck I called her Lizzy all through this post. Maybe it’s her writing, maybe, and I hated to admit it, I identified with her. But more importantly I was moved by the journey.