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Welcome! My main blog is Notes to Self, where I write about my big, little life. This is a place in the margins to jot down reviews, finds, and ideas worth passing along. I only post about things that are of genuine interest and relevance to me, whether suggested or discovered. I disclose all gifts, sponsorships, favors owed, blood bonds, and other vested interests. Contact me at kyranp c/o gmail.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Happy Camping Guide: Sleeping


In a few weeks, I'll be accompanying my Cub scouts on a weekend camping trip. I sat down this morning to jot down a few tips for the families in our group who may not be experienced campers, and decided it was a Noteworthy topic. So over the next few posts, I'll be sharing tips on how to camp without roughing it.


Tents have come a long way from when I was a little girl, camped out in our musty-smelling Coleman model, made of heavy canvas stretched over a metal frame. It must have weighed a ton. It wasn't waterproof, either, which was a problem if you lived on the east coast. I can still hear my father barking, "NOBODY TOUCHES THE WALLS" as we huddled together in the middle and watched raindrops beading on the exterior, threatening to penetrate.

I'm a fair-weather camper today, and I keep a close eye on the weather before loading the van. We've had our spirits dampened occasionally, but have always managed to sleep dry and mildew-free. Both tents we've had in our ten-year family camping career have been Coleman's, which is somewhere in the middle of the quality/price spectrum between Eureka and the Target/Wal-mart store brands, Greatland and Ozark Trail. You can almost always find a deal on a new tent online. Remember that the capacity estimate is based on a can of sardines. If you want to move around your tent in comfort, you'll need to pad it by a couple of bodies. Personally, I like to be able to stand up in my tent. Ours is an 8-person, three-room tent, no longer in production, but along the lines of the one pictured below. You'll want at least one good lantern, but the magnetic clamp-on night light is handy to have, and extra stakes, a mallet and a whisk broom are essential. I am a lunatic about dirt in the tent, barking at the kids in the same tone as my father with the rain, "NOBODY WEARS SHOES IN THE TENT!"

Any tent can be upgraded with a five dollar bottle of seam sealant. A new tent should come with a rainfly and ground cloth (footprint), but I recommend buying an extra tarp to fold up and tuck (completely) under the floor. Every layer of insulation you can put between your body and the cold, hard ground is going to keep you that much warmer and drier at night.


Someday I'm going to get into backpacking and go tripping down the Appalachian Trail with gear so ultralight and high-tech, it will have to be weighted down at night just to stay earthbound. In the meantime, I am a car camper, the kind who backs the van up to the site, rolls out an eight-person tent, and looks for a place to plug in the Christmas lights. Because no one has to carry their bedding more than a few feet, we are able to bring many of the comforts of home. Or more precisely, the comforters of home. We have two inflatable air mattresses. The one Patrick and I sleep on is an Aerobed, and it is as comfortable as our bed at home. The only problem is, it has to be plugged in to inflate, unlike the kids' bed, which has a battery-powered pump. It's not a problem at state parks with hookups, but for elsewhere, I need to pick up a power adapter. Also, "NOBODY BOUNCES ON THE AIRBEDS!"

Remember what I said about insulation between you and the cold, hard ground? Air counts as insulation. So the elevation of the air mattresses really ups the comfort level. Placing an old blanket or sleeping bag under the mattress will improve it even more. Also, never wear your day clothes to bed, especially your socks. Even a little lingering perspiration will make you cold and clammy at night. I make everyone change into synthetic long underwear and fresh socks. More on clothing to come, but in general, COTTON=BAD.

If you have sleeping bags, great. But if you're starting from scratch, and are on a budget, I'd say spend the money on air mattresses, and just bring your duvets, comforters and pillows from home. Just give it all a good shake when you get back, and of course NOBODY WEARS SHOES IN THE TENT, so the dirt should be minimal. Of course, if you plan to camp in less than fair weather, you'll want to look into sleeping bags with the appropriate temperature ratings. My eldest son has one for Boy Scouts that cost a fortune and is rated for nights on Pluto. But Patrick and I stay pretty toasty under our feather duvet. It's getting out in the early morning that's the cold part. Which brings me to

Gear For Sissies (Like Me)

There are now portable heaters that are safe for use in enclosed spaces, though I would certainly not leave it on unattended, or while sleeping. But I'd really like to get one for preheating the tent before bed, or getting warm in the morning.

The table, pictured above, is a really cheap contraption of aluminum and plastic that folds flat into its own carrier. But it's nice to have somewhere to sit and play cards or eat cereal inside the tent, and if it lasts four trips, it'll will have been worth the 30 bucks or so I paid for it (with a coupon). When it finally gives out, I'd like to replace it with the sturdier one pictured below.

Finally, you want a place to corral dirty clothes, because clothes get unspeakably filthy in the great outdoors, and spiders love to hide under yesterday's socks. A pop-up hamper contains the laundry, and makes unpacking a little easier when you get home.

Up next: Eating

Amazon links are associate links, which means if you buy through that link, I get a small referral fee. You can also find great deals online at Campmor, Dealnews and Overstock with whom I have no affiliation.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Kung Fu Girl Riesling

It can be tricky to pair spicy foods with wine. If we're out eating curry or Chinese food, I'll usually go with an imported beer by default. But at home, I like to serve wine. So when I cooked a spicy shrimp dish for a few friends last month, I decided to take a chance on a Riesling, a sweet white wine I historically associate with lobster meals and the kinds of restaurants I thought were fancy in my early dating years, where a shrimp cocktail was the height of sophistication.

But the cute label on the bottle of Kung Fu Girl Riesling caught my eye, and something on the sweet side sounded like a good complement to the creole spice. I found it subtly fruity (with a distinct apricot note), but not cloying at all. What else can I say? It was kick-ass.


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Friday, August 27, 2010

This Little Piggy Went to Market

If you follow me on twitter, you may have thought I was kidding when I tweeted last night that today's blogger preview event at the new supermarket in town was the most relevant PR pitch I'd seen all year. If only. The fact is, no matter how thoroughly I plan, I am in Kroger a minimum of three times a week. It is my significant other.

"The grocery store is not my happy place," I grumble, when I meet someone I know in the aisle. But if the new store were my store, and I was always went to it with a fun group of bloggers, and all the department managers came out to feed us exotic fruits and sushi and pastries, it definitely would be.

I came home with a full belly, aching feet, and a little bag of goodies. And I didn't have to do any math in my head or use a single coupon.

Here's my slideshow, if you're curious what happens when you wave food on toothpicks in front of women bloggers (think "Shark Week"). Be sure to click on the first image to turn on the captions.


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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Help, I'm a Hoarder: Restaurant Coupon Giveaway

I looked up my unused gift certificates on tonight, and concluded that I may have a  hoarding problem. I snap up these "certificates" (they are actually discount coupons) whenever they go on sale, and print one off whenever we feel like we can swing a meal out.  The terms vary from restaurant to restaurant, but generally speaking, the voucher gets you a nice discount off a minimum dine-in purchase, exclusive of beverages, taxes and gratuity. It's a nice excuse to spring for dessert, or treat a friend. The site lists a wide range of restaurants across the U.S., and some of our favorite local family and date night spots participate. I've never had any problem redeeming a certificate. Thank you, recession, for making coupons socially acceptable.

Anyway, I've already got more than I'll use in a year, so I'd like to give away five $25 certificates, good across the U.S. I'll email a code to the first five commenters who leave me an email address (use name "in care of" domain if you like). You can always forward an unredeemed code to a friend if you find you can't use it. Please note that neither the certificates, nor this offer, have any cash value, and if you run into any problems, you'll have to take it up with A certificate for an establishment no longer in business or with the program can be exchanged by emailing

Additionally, let me know if any of you happen to be passing through Portsmouth, NH; Harrisburg, PA; St. Louis, MO; Bar Harbor, ME; Gettysburg, PA; Memphis, TN; or Dallas, TX. I have certificates for specific restaurants in those cities that I picked up "just in case" we could use them while travelling last year.

Bon appetit!


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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Get Smart.


I've owned and loved a Blackberry since 2008, but as my two-year service agreement wound to a close last spring, I had already made up my mind to ditch it for an iPhone. Every time I heard about another whiz-bang app, my trusty Curve 8330 looked a little dowdier to me. It was the tech version of classic midlife wanderlust. I was ready to trade up.

Then, as people going through midlife wanderlust so often do, I joined a gym. And the household budget came to me, and said, "The gym or your mobile data plan. Choose one." I consulted both my head and my heart, but at the end of the day, the deciding vote went to my ass. The gym promised to do way more for it than my smartphone ever had. Also the locker room has a hot tub. There's no app for that, last time I checked.

So, fine, no new smart phone commitment, but I figured I better get a pay-as-you-go "dumb" phone in case of emergencies. I found an eight-dollar refurbished Nokia on Go Phone, closed my Verizon account, transferred my number, and resisted signing up for anything but the no-frills, no-strings, twenty-five cent per minute price plan. I bought an initial fifteen dollars worth of airtime, and a thousand text messages for ten bucks.

Disconnecting the Blackberry felt a bit like unplugging a pet from life support. And it was disorienting at first. I'd have a thought that I wanted to tweet, or an idle question I wanted answered, or just time to kill while waiting in line, and I'd reflexively reach for the Blackberry. It was similar to quitting smoking, over a decade ago. The urge was as physical as it was mental.

But I noticed how very infrequently I was actually inconvenienced by not being able to tweet or google or catch up on the New York Times online. Those twitches had a way of calling me back to the physical present. After a few weeks, they mostly went away. You know something else? I felt my attention span come back. I can't remember a summer when I've read so many books.

Don't worry, this is not a conversion story. I love technology. I love social media. It has enriched my life and my relationships--both on and offline--immeasurably. But it works a particular set of mental muscles, and I think some other ones had gotten slack.

After the initial withdrawl pangs, the dummying down of my phone turned out not be that much of a sacrifice. As a matter of fact, my dumb phone does nearly all the essential things I needed my Blackberry to do, which amounts to a lot of texting (e.g, "pizza for supper?") and the occasional phone call. Not being able to do the other stuff (email, internet) as easily is forcing me to put some much needed boundaries around my work time. Because my Blackberry syncs with my home computer, I'm still able to use it as a calendar and note-keeper, as well as a player for my music and audio books. The only reason I can think of to still want an iPhone is the great built-in camera, and all those sexy photo apps. But the allure dims in light of the money I've been saving.

It helps that I'm not much of a phone talker. Fifteen dollars of airtime a month has been just about right. I'm coming in just under 1,000 messages a month. That's $25 a month, compared to my average bill of $150 for the Blackberry. To be fair, about twenty of that was for a mobile line for the kids, just to take on sleepovers or long outings. I replaced that with a refurbished GoPhone also. It cost $6 and they've only used a few dollars worth of airtime all summer. My sixth grader accidentally dropped it in the pool this week. It dried out fine. But if it hadn't? Hey, it cost six bucks.

Who's got the smart phone now?


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Monday, July 12, 2010

Dollar Store Within Reach


When we moved into our new home several years ago, we splurged on a glass and steel dining room table from Design Within Reach. I love the DWR catalog, but I can't decide if the company name is a cruel joke, or intentionally hipster-ironic. They eventually realized that mine was probably a once-in-a-decade purchase, and took me off their mailing list.

I thought the glass would be easy to clean, and it is, except WOW, three grubby boys times ten grubby fingers adds up to a million grubby fingerprints a day. Wipe-clean place mats help, but I wanted some that would go in the dishwasher. After searching in vain for something remotely nice looking and affordable, I found these opaque cutting mats at the Dollar Tree (as you can see here, they do buckle a little in the dishwasher, but settle down nicely if weighted for a bit). A buck for a two-pack. That's design within my reach.


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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

With My Little Eye

Today's Noteworthy library find: Spot It! Find the Hidden Creaturesby Delphine Chedru (affiliate link). Early readers (or listeners) are invited to search for creatures hidden among repeating patterns that are geometric, but whimsical. Beautiful design, accompanied by simple, poetic text. It reminds me how much I loved to study the groovy flower-power wallpaper in the spare room of my grandparents' house when I was tucked in bed there.

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