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December 1, 2009

More happy things I like

Sometimes I like to blather on about stuff I like. My previous Stuff I Like lists are here and here. That was all I could find. I tried searching the archives but I have a LOT of archives. Who wrote all that stuff? Geez.

By the way, no one paid me to talk about these products. (Sadly.) I just list things I like and these are my current favorites. I like to share because who knows, you may also be looking for THE perfect water heating device and I have found it. This is investigative journalism at its finest.

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Best Bargain Hair Conditioner
Pantene Pro-V Beautiful Lengths Hair Conditioner
I have long, very fine hair that tangles like crazy and will break off in the middle of a sentence for no good reason at all. I also live in a climate with 2% humidity so I need a very thick conditioner! I love the Kerastase products because they really do work, but good grief they are expensive. The conditioner I was using was thirty bucks a bottle. I first tried Pantene after reading a Consumer Reports article about hair products and apparently the Pantene stuff ranked very highly so I decided it was worth five bucks to try it. And it worked! I personally do not see a $25 difference in my hair quality from using the pricey stuff instead of the cheaper product. In the past year I have tried all different flavors of Pantene including a deep-conditioner I couldn't find online for you, but it comes in a jar and I got it at Target. I find the jar thing to be a little awkward in the shower, so I switched to the "Beautiful Lengths" stuff and it's perfect.

Best Green Veggie From A Box

Cascadian Farms organic green beans with almonds
I love these green beans. I put them in a saucepan with a little olive oil and sprinkle on some garlic powder and cook them until they're unrecognizable (Southerners love green beans cooked to death, I never realized it was a cultural thing until I moved out here.) And these beans taste so much better than any others I have ever found, canned or frozen. One day I flipped over the box and read the label and found out why -- they have a little sugar and salt on them. Sneaky! But so so tasty.


My closest Ralph's doesn't carry these and Whole Foods stopped carrying them a while ago, so in a pinch I buy bagged, frozen organic French cut green beans at Whole Foods and cook them to death (really, the secret is cooking them in olive oil and adding garlic powder, or garlic salt if the beans are unsalted and just cooking forever) and then adding my own almonds. It works fine but the all-in-one boxed kind are the best. Must be the sugar.

Most Addictive Lip Balm Ever
Carmex Stick lip balm
It works great and I always have it in my purse. It even has sunscreen!

Favorite Travel Widget
It's not really a widget, it's a service. But if you're getting on an airplane, get thee to SeatGuru fast! You can find your flight's make and model on your reservation, then look it up on SeatGuru to find the best (and worst) seat assignments.

Most Used Most Awesome Kitchen Gadget
The electric kettle!! Ubiquitous in European kitchens, the electric kettle is the best invention in hot water since the flame. I don't know why Americans haven't embraced the electric kettle, though. It's a mystery.

The one I have is the Aroma 1-1/2-Liter Kettle and I LOVE it. It's shiny and pretty on the countertop, it's easy to fill and clean and the heater is in the base so there's no heating element inside the pot. Plus, there's an auto shut-off, so you can leave the base plugged in without worrying you're about to scorch the kitchen.

I use my kettle every day, the water heats up super fast and I love that it's not sitting on the stovetop getting grody. I don't make a whole pot of coffee each morning, I make one cup of tea or I make instant coffee. Yeah, I know, you're writhing on the floor in pain at the mention of instant coffee, but I like it and if you buy quality coffee it tastes just fine. I have it on very good authority that the French often drink instant in their own homes so move past your indignation that I drink instant and focus it instead on the idea of the French drinking instant coffee!

Best Book I've Read In A While
The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
A woman at work brought this in for me to read and she was right, it was a perfect book for me. For one thing, the main character loves Los Angeles. And it's a character story, a lovely, small, perfect character story. I bought a copy for myself, my mom and my friend Corey. I love to buy books for people, especially good books like this one. I love good books.

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Finally, I got an email from a reader asking me about my Asus eeePC -- she was about to go on a trip overseas and had recently purchased one for the vacation, and asked if I had trouble typing on it and she said hers did not fit in her handbag and she had some issues with it. And she didn't think her friends or family had skype and she wasn't sure it was all worth it and was thinking of returning it.

I know I have talked up my rockin' little netbook (here's an entry where I yammer on about it), it's so small and was so inexpensive! I couldn't believe they made anything so tiny that actually worked:

But I bought my netbook a few years ago and a lot has changed since then. Now almost every computer brand makes one and they have gotten bigger and better. More keyboard space, more battery life, and still very affordable and portable. The eeePC I have is a very early version, it has a teetiny screen and an infinitesimal keyboard and runs on Linux. (I do not want to check email or work while I'm on vacation and the small keyboard was never a problem for me.) The battery life is limited, about an hour or two. The touchpad buttons are clunky.

Having said all of that it was the first computer I had ever seen that was so small, came in cute colors and was both sturdy and affordable! Unlike my "real" laptop, I had no fear taking it all over the world and plugging it into suspect power outlets or accidentally dropping it in the TSA line or having it banged a bit in the suitcase.

However, the new crop of netbooks are as varied and full-featured as the regular laptop market. Travel + Leisure magazine recently ranked their favorite new travel gadgets and listed many new, slick-looking netbooks:

Sony VAIO W 10.1" Netbook - Up to 7 Hours of Battery Life (Windows 7)

Toshiba Mini NB205 10.1" Netbook - 9 Hours of Battery Life (Windows 7)

ASUS Eee PC 1008 10.1" Netbook - 6 Hour Battery Life (Windows XP)

HP Mini 110 10.1" Netbook - Up to 8 Hours of Battery Life (Windows 7)

Lenovo S10-2 10.1" Netbook - Up to 6 Hours of Battery Life (Windows 7)
(Check out the cute floral options)

Please note I have not tried any of these computers myself. But the netbook concept in general is a favorite thing and this list alone should give you an idea of how outdated my 8-inch, 1-hour battery life Linux model is. There's a world of options available now! Netbooks galore can be had for under $400 and with a lot more bells and battery juice.

As for the skype question, when I am traveling I use skype to stay in touch with people but they don't need the software. I just put in a few bucks of credit on my skype account and I can call anyone's cellphone or landline for uber-cheap, around two cents a minute. (You can also use skype on your iphone if you're in a wifi hotspot, I have not tried this yet.)

Having said all of this, I wouldn't buy a netbook just for a single trip abroad. And especially not a trip to Europe where you can often duck into an internet cafe. Your hotel may even offer a computer in the lobby for guest use.

I bought my netbook because I knew I was going to be traveling fairly frequently, I did not at the time have an iphone, I knew I would be traveling alone and would want to call home and I knew I would want it for entertaining myself on the plane and in the airport lobbies of the world. A friend of mine at work loaded a ton of movies and TV shows onto an external drive for me (please do not email me asking how to do this as I have no idea and am of no help at all) and now I can watch videos when I travel. It has been most useful as a phone, though -- using skype through the hotel wifi to track down lost luggage in France, make changes to a tour in Rome, reschedule my flight in Maui. I used it as a handy research tool to find train schedules and opening hours at restaurants and yarn shops.

Could I have traveled without it? Absolutely. But it has been handy and helpful and I like it and it has probably paid for itself in phone bill savings alone. Several years ago my luggage went to Morocco and I went to Paris and it took HOURS of calls to get that figured out. That's when I started packing a carryon bag.

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Ok, that's my list for today. Happy anti-recessioning! After all, when you're saving $25 on hair conditioner, it adds up and you can buy that netbook of your dreams. Or lots and lots of green beans.

Posted by laurie at December 1, 2009 1:43 AM