May 21, 2012 

With neon as the hottest trend for the Spring/Summer 2012 season, fashion these days has become blindingly bright. This look from the 80’s has been revitalized in 2012. While everyone has taken on this look--on television, at fashion week, celebrities and maybe even on the office fashionista—it’s not always the easiest to rock. What goes with neon purple?? No need to worry, here are a few ideas to have you looking fabulous in neon...without looking like a box of crayons.

Accents

The easiest way to wear neon is to add a bright accent piece to your outfit. Try adding a neon belt, bag, shoes or jewelry to spruce up your look. When adding neon accents, your outfit should stay pretty neutral in color to allow the eye-catching color to take center stage. Adding a pop of neon to a simple silhouette can take you from average to over the top, effortlessly.

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Mix and Match

If you’re not a fashion risk-taker and don’t feel comfortable wearing an outfit of head-to-toe neon, pick top or bottom. You can wear a pair of neon jeans with a neutral top or rock a classic blazer in bold neon to add some pizazz to your look.  With only one key piece in your outfit being bold, it will stand out in a good way.


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Going All In!

If you’re a fashionista that likes to take risks, try wearing a neon top and bottom. You can wear neon in a solid color as a dress or jumper, or you can try color blocking. Keep your silhouette and pieces simple because you are wearing all neon--you don’t want to overdo it with over thetop pieces. The important thing to remember when wearing a full neon outfit is that you need to add neutral pieces to tone down your bright look. Try adding neutral, classic pieces for your jewelry and bag with natural makeup and nails to finish your look.

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 Color Overload: Oh, No!

Bold neon colors were hot in the 80’s but you don’t want to look you stepped back in time. Remember: don’t overdo it with clashing neon from head to toe.  Avoid looking like a fashion disaster by add a few more muted pieces to your look to balance out the vibrant neon colors. Here are some examples of when neon goes wrong:

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When wearing neon, don’t be afraid to play with different looks and styles. For example, you can be masculine, casual or ultra-feminine. Remember when wearing neon is it very easy to look shall we say...cray, so moderation and balance are key elements when trying out this trend.


Published in Fashion

May 21, 2012 

Even professional writers occasionally struggle with writing press releases. That’s because they’re not like anything else we write. A press release may seem similar to a blog article, but it’s really in a category of its own. It has its own set of rules. Don’t get discouraged if you’re tasked with writing one, though. These 10 guidelines should get you started, and everything beyond that just comes with practice.

Press releases are typically a tool to send to media professionals to generate publicity. 

  1. Provide Newsworthy Info – A press release is not an advertisement or an opinion piece. You need to announce actual news, like a new product or service, a recent event, an organizational milestone, a business expansion, or an award. Your thoughts on right wing politics should not go in a press release. 
  2. Consider “Why Should Anyone Care?” – Always ask yourself this question before writing your press release. Just because it’s seems like news to you or your boss doesn’t mean readers will automatically care. Don’t push your product or use clichéd phrases like “customers can now save money.” Focus on unique features that set your news apart. Or pick an interesting angle by tying your news to a current event, popular trend, social issue or recent study. 
  3. Explain Who’s Who – Make sure to mention your company in the headline and first paragraph. It gives the story credibility and also promotes the business. Best PR practices also say to include an “about” section for your company (technically called the boilerplate), as well as for all relevant affiliated companies mentioned (this can be done in the flow of the press release but is usually placed at the end). Don’t just assume anyone knows what a company does, or that they’ll want to go to the company’s website just to find that out. Speaking of websites: Be sure to include relevant site URLs and social media handles. 
  4. Hook the Reader at the Beginning – In this sense, a press release is like anything else you write—from blog to article to novel. Start strong and get the reader interested right away. Your headline, summary, and first paragraph should announce the news and intrigue the reader. Everything else is details.
  5. Be Brief – Unlike many other pieces of content, press releases have specific guidelines about word count. The general rule is to keep them 300-500 words long (I would recommend aiming for 400, give or take). If you use press release distribution services, they will often impose their own limit or charge more for longer publications—especially in the case of business distributions.
  6. Keep it Scannable – Very few people actually read online—they scan. So make sure your content is scannable. Split up long paragraphs into more bite-sized sections, shorten long sentences, and use bullet points where you can.
  7. Take SEO into Account – Effective press releases target both readers and search engines. Don’t go overboard and pack your press release with keywords from start to finish, but do consider your SEO goals before publishing. Carefully choose what keywords you want to target with your press release and incorporate them into the headline, the subhead/summary, the first paragraph, and the hyperlinks. On average, only use one linking keyword per 100-150 words.
  8. Be Professional and Use Correct Grammar – As a rule, press releases should always sound formal and professional, following all the appropriate grammatical guidelines. Always use third person (don’t use “I,” “we,” or “you”); pretend as if you’re a third party writing about your company. Use active voice instead of passive voice. Avoid jargon, exclamation points, hyperboles, exaggeration etc. Be concise and eliminate any unnecessary, flowery words. Most importantly, don’t forget to proofread according to AP Style and get someone else to proofread, too.
  9. Get a Quote – It’s always good to get a relevant quote for your press release, whether this is a customer review, an official statement by the CEO, or an event participant’s comment. A quote breaks up the flow of the press release so it’s not just one long description by the author. 
  10. Hold Something Back – Don’t reveal everything in the press release. If you want readers to click on your links, you need to give them a reason to do so (like learning more). 

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If you’re still struggling, a good place to start is to browse some examples on PRWeb. You’ll quickly realize getting the word out is not as complicated as it seems. Good luck! 


Published in Business

May 21, 2012 

So you just graduated! Yay! You have your cap and gown...and a mountain of student loan debt!! Wait. OK, so there is more to this whole graduating thing than you expected. But you can simplify your loans and pay them off more rapidly. Here’s how: 

  1. Consolidate your loans for simplicity – You may not get a lower interest rate but you will get the convenience of having just one payment to make. Cutting down on managing multiple accounts makes it easier to avoid late fees and keep up with due dates. For more information check out www.finaid.com.
  2. Check to see if you qualify for the Obama Special Direct consolidation program – This new program started in January 2012 and is available through June 2012. If you qualify, you can consolidate your loans and get a 0.25% reduction in interest rate. You can become eligible for another 0.25% interest rate reduction if the loan is repaid through an automatic debit system. For more information on the program and to see if your loans qualify visit this site.
  3. Make additional payments – By making additional debt payments every month you may be able to pay off your student loan a lot faster.  For example, if your student loan balance is $10,000 with an interest rate of 6.8% and minimum payment of $115 per month, it will take you 10 years to pay off the loan.  If you add another $100 to your monthly payment for a total of $215 per month it will take 4.6 years to pay off the loan.  Also, by paying $215.00 per month instead of the calculated payment of $115.08, you save $2,169.12 in interest charges.
  4. Get someone else to pay – I like this one. There a lot of occupations now offering to pay off your student loans as a recruiting tool. Programs such as AmeriCorps or Teach for America also offer grants to help you pay off your loans. Teaching in a low-income school may also qualify you for loan forgiveness.
  5. And don't forget: If you meet income requirements, you can deduct up to $2,500 per year in interest on any loans used for higher education.


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When dealing with debt, the best thing you can do is educate yourself about your options. Do your research and then work on paying your student loans down step by step. Soon you’ll be able to pay them off and focus on the bright future ahead of you. 


Brittney Castro is not affiliated with MadeWomenMag.com. Brittney A. Castro is a registered representative with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. California Insurance License #0F33895. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.




Published in Personal Finance

May 21, 2012 

I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess the last time you said “let's talk about sex, baby,” to someone else, with a smile on your face, it was because Salt -N-Pepa was blaring in the background and you were a few cocktails in with your girlfriends. There was probably a dance floor involved.

Not a very long limb, eh?  That's because for the majority of women (myself included), those are five words that--unless accompanied by the above circumstances--are closely related to the most awkward of conversations we can imagine having with a significant other.  And unfortunately, there are more uncomfortable phrases where that came from.  “What are we?” and anything with the word “money” can (and will, if you're anything like me) make you squirm right out of your mind just imagining the agonizing directions these conversations can go. 

Enter Made Woman.  We make no promises, but we strive to make you feel just a bit more secure as you conduct these conversations. Because, let's face it, unless you have “the talk,” there will surely be an expiration date on your relationship.

Sex… The Safe Kind

I've known many confident, beautiful women who crumble at the mere thought of this conversation for all the wrong, but very common, reasons:  They feel embarrassed or ashamed, a loss of empowerment, or they worry about the other person leaving them. 

What would happen if you entered the conversation with this mindset:  This is my body, and I'll be the one who has to live with it even if he decides to leave.  I am not my parents, or my grandparents, whose biggest risk to having unsafe sex was the possibility of pregnancy.  I can’t hide my head in the sand in the age of genital warts, cervical cancer (a happy byproduct of HPV), HIV and AIDS.  I have the power to protect myself against all of these, and he has the choice to work with me or hit the road. When all is said and done, if the conversation goes horribly wrong, it's in your power to eliminate the idiot who can’t see past a good time in bed. It’s not just about the act of sex, it’s about your health.  Your wellbeing is not something to be timid about.  

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So yes, be empowered! But for God's sake, don't go into the talk anticipating that World War III lays ahead.  And also, make sure you talk about this before any belts unbuckle -- bringing it up in the heat of the moment is bound to make it awkward and will definitely kill the mood.  Start it off as casually as you can, during a relaxed moment between the two of you.  Maybe tell him that you care about him, as well as both of you as a unit and that you want there to be a mutual understanding in your relationship.  Then let the rest flow, as naturally as you can.  You know your boundaries, what you're comfortable with and what you’re not comfortable with.  Guess what? He may have been waiting for you to break the ice. Talk and listen with an open mind.

Who knows, you may find that talking about it actually turns you on, and once each person’s expectations are out in the open, you’ll be comfortable enough to finally have a good time. Safely. ;-)

Defining the Relationship

Let's start by not calling it the “Defining Our Relationship” talk in the first place.  I'm not even a guy and my chest got tight just typing those words out.  What about having a “Sell The Relationship” talk instead?  You've got something that he will only get should he choose to become exclusive with you, right? (If you don't, I'll get to you in a second).  What is it?  Is it sex (or having it more often)? Is it your promise to stop giving your number to other guys who come your way during a girl's night out?  Is it more sleepovers? Is it the opportunity to spend more quality time with wonderful you? These are all benefits to being with you.  Use these bargaining chips to your advantage.  Negotiate.  Present him with the benefits, instead of putting him on the defense. 

Okay, so what if you have already given up all your relationship goal before securing a title? Fine, it happens, we can lose our minds once in a while as we fall head over heels.  There can still be a positive outcome for you if you realize two things:  It will be harder, and you will need self-control.  Tell him you have a desire for you both to be exclusive to each other, you're falling hard, and you wish to enhance your connection by becoming singular.  a committed couple.  Tell him you'd be hurt if you knew he was doing the same things with other people that he is doing with you.  Remain calm as you tell him you understand if he's not on the same page, but you'll have to distance yourself from him should he not be.  If his answer is not the one you're looking for, hold true to your statement and back the hell away.  This is where the self-control comes in.  Have respect for yourself –no one wants to be, or look like a lost puppy.  Attractiveness goes hand in hand with confidence, and once he sees that you have the confidence to move on, the confidence to stick by your word and not call or text him... he might just remember it was that confidence that attracted him to you in the first place and come back around.  Should he not?  Like my mama always said: There's always, always more fish in the sea.  Never settle for less than what you're asking for.

What's Mine is... Mine.

I've read it's estimated that money leads to 90% of divorces. This number does not seem out of control to me.  Money means different things to different people:  power, love, security, control, etc.  What does it mean to you? What does it mean to him?  You need to find out before walking down the aisle, as I'm sure you don't want to be the couple who adds any more decimals to that percentage of divorcees.  As with the two subjects above, find a calm moment to broach the subject.  Don't be afraid to kick the conversation off yourself by offering your own opinions about a financial issue.  Maybe use an example of something you saw in the news, on TV, or in a friend's relationship and go on to say what you would have done in that same circumstance.

Then begin to share more personal experiences about money issues.  You might start with how you were raised to thinking about it, how your own family dealt with it, and how it's been dealt with in past relationships –and whether those memories are positive or negative for you.  Be honest with yourself –If you earn more than your partner, would you feel resentment if he skimmed some of your funds for himself? Do you feel more secure with two separate accounts should you get married, or would you prefer one shared? How do you feel about debt?  How do you feel about him taking care of you financially? (In this age of the independent woman, more and more have differing feelings on this issue).  In money discussions, a game-changing moment where you both realize you are not on the same page with an issue could arise.  Work to come to an agreement, but remember, just as in our “Selling The Relationship” talk –never, ever settle for something that makes you discontent. 

If you are married (please, please be married before doing this) and decide to merge your accounts into one, make sure you each retain a credit card that is detached from everything else.  Should divorce, death, or anything else unexpected and tragic occur, it will be extremely difficult for you to get a mortgage or loan without it.

Personally, my game-changer is credit card debt. I will never, every marry someone who has it (or who can't seem to pay it off before walking down the aisle), and I would never bring it into a marriage. No way around it.  It's something I was raised believing and it's something I continue to believe now as an independent woman.  What's your game-changer?  Whether it's an issue of sex, what a relationship means to you, or money, figure it out before the time comes to sit down and talk about it.  Don't let anyone take that away from you, and know that if you can’t reach an agreement with your man, there is someone else out there (we're not being corny, we're being honest here!) who will see eye-to-eye with you.



Published in Love + Dating

May 21, 2012

Ah, spring. The flowers, the sunshine, the cute shoes. But wait – springtime also conjures up a dreadful childhood memory: Spring cleaning. Fear not – you are a Made Woman! Not only does that mean you’re smart, independent and stylish, it means you know to keep your space clean. Well, hopefully. ;-)

Now I know cleaning is not first on everyone’s list of fave weekend activities, but let’s get real. Who wants to come home to or entertain in a place that isn’t tidy? Roll up your sleeves girls, because you have some cleaning to do.

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Here is our fab five list of spring cleaning tips to get you started:

  1. Clean your closet – It’s time to reorganize. Do a Goodwill drop-off of clothing you haven’t worn in a year. Organize your shoes so they’re easy to find. If there are shelves to dust, dust them. Give your closet a spritz of Febreze. Re-hang anything that’s falling off its hanger. Not only will this make your room look better it will cut down the time it takes you to get dressed in the morning.
  2. Clean your coffee pot – This is something I neglected to do until I read an article in HGTV Magazine’s February/March issue. While java drinkers probably clean out the grounds bin and the pot regularly, most of us don’t clear out the whole system. HGTV magazine advises us to fill the reservoir with two parts white vinegar and one part water. Turn the machine to brew and let it do its thing. Repeat twice using just water.
  3. Clean hard floors – If you do this regularly, good job! I usually sweep weekly but I rarely take out the mop. Mix a cup of white vinegar with one gallon of water to scour tile or linoleum. Skip the vinegar solution for hardwood floors; instead check out these cleaning tips from Apartment Therapy. Don’t cheat: You have to clean every inch of flooring!
  4. Clean baseboards – Have you ever looked at baseboards? They are major dust collectors. Somehow they are also collectors of random stains and cobwebs. Keep cleaning simple by running a microfiber cloth along the boards. Use a slightly damp cloth if stuff is really sticking.
  5. Clean the inside of your car – Cars are usually dirtier than we realize. Take an hour to throw out trash, wipe up coffee or tea stains, put away any clothing items that have accumulated and wipe down the dashboard. Vacuum the interior (try a gas station) and give the windows a good clean so your car will be sparkling clean.

Bonus Tip: Before you invest 100 bucks in cleaning supplies, do a Google search on cleaning with vinegar. White vinegar is an old trick that the home-and-garden folk swear by. It gets things uber clean and it’s really cheap.


This is just a shortlist to get you started. There are more obvious cleaning items like cleaning blinds, cabinets, refrigerators, windows and the yard or garage, too, so make a list that works for your home and lifestyle. Turn on some tunes and get cleaning!

What other spring cleaning tips are there? Tell us in the comments below! Sharing is caring…

Published in Lifestyle

May 7, 2012

You have worked hard to establish a great career--no small feat during an economic recession--and now you are ready to put your money to work for you. But where to begin? Should you hire a financial broker, or become an independent investor? Play it safe with bonds, or play the stock market?  Before you resort to stuffing cash under a mattress, take these five steps toward investing…straight to the bank. 

1. Get Financially Literate. Some investment terms you should know include:

Stock/ Equities - If you own a stock, you own part of the company. A stock is evidenced by a paper certificate.

Securities - Includes stocks, bonds, and bank deposits. 

Bond - A bond is a debt investment in which an investor loans money to a corporate or government entity that borrows the money for a defined period of time at a fixed interest rate. The main categories of bonds are corporate bonds, municipal bonds, and U.S. Treasury bonds.

Market Capitalization - Also known as “market cap.” It is calculated by multiplying the current price per share of a stock with the number of shares outstanding.

Mutual Fund - An investment company that combines the money from a large group of investors to buy stocks and other investments.

Dividends - A portion of a company's profits that is paid out to shareholders on a quarterly or annual basis. 

These are the most commonly used terms in investment and knowing what they mean will help you understand stock roundups in The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and Dow Jones. When I first tried to calculate a company’s market cap it took me two hours, simply because I didn’t know what it meant. Now that I know the lingo, I can look at an analyst report and easily follow the progress of a stock. I’m no expert, but I know enough to play the game. 

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After brushing up on your fiscal vocabulary, read Lois P. Frankel’s Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich: 75 Avoidable Mistakes Women Make with Money.  I love the advice she offers women about diving into investment and not waiting on “Prince Charming” to take care of their finances. Use the workbooks and self-evaluations in the book to establish and monitor your progress toward financial goals. 

Another great read is Douglas R. Andrew’s Millionaire by Thirty: The Quickest Path to Early Financial Independence. Andrew claims that young professionals can achieve financial independence at an early age by investing. He suggests alternatives to the traditional 401k to make the dream of early retirement a reality.

The Richest Man in Babylon uses parables and layman terms to deliver investment basics and emphasize the importance of growing your money. My dad gave it to me when I was only seven and I often revisit the principals outlined in this book. The common sense advice helps keep me in check when I’m tempted to splurge during a sale at H&M.

Also, get in the habit of scanning Investors Business Daily, The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo Finance for the latest news and market trends.

2. Do Your Research. Before you invest in anything, do your homework. Publicly traded companies want your money, so they make it easy to find pertinent information. Check out their websites to find earnings reports, mergers and acquisitions news and stock quotes. Knowing everything you can about a potential investment is crucial to making a wise decision. Supplement your research with facts from Hoover's Company Profiles. This is an invaluable web resource that offers additional material about company management and executive profiles. 

3. Stay Connected. Once you have done your research and decided which companies you want to invest in, it is smart to stay in touch with an online financial community. Social media is a great tool for networking with investment pros and getting the inside scoop on smart buys. Try Stocktwit, a social networking platform where you can “share ideas and learn from passionate investors and traders.”

4. Don’t Invest What You Should be Saving. Investments should be a part of your overall financial strategy; however, it is important to establish good saving habits first. Create an emergency fund, open a retirement savings account and pay off outstanding credit card debt before playing the stock market. Pay yourself first and you should have extra money to invest in no time. 

5. Diversify Your Portfolio. Once you have savings and understand your investment options, it is important not to place all your eggs in one basket. Diversification is the practice of spreading money among different investments to reduce risk. A well balanced portfolio of investments is more likely to withstand fluctuations in the volatile financial market. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission offers great advice on steps you can take to diversify your investments for maximum returns. 

Investing is key to financial independence. You want the freedom to travel, buy a home or retire early, but savings alone won’t get you there. The average annual percentage gain for a high-yield savings account is one percent. Compare this to the average 10 percent earned on stocks. When you save, your money doesn’t work for you and you will only have as much money as you set aside from your salary. When you invest, your money grows by earning interest. So, determine your financial goals, study up and take your first steps toward a wealthy future.

Published in Personal Finance
Monday, 09 April 2012 06:11

Moving 101 | Easy Moving Tips

April 9, 2012

Recently my husband and I purchased a home (!!) and embarked upon The Big Move.

I detest moving.

But knowing that everyone has to move, I saddled up and trudged through. Since this was my biggest move to date (moving the lives and belongings of two people instead of just one), I tried to be more organized and more prepared than normal. Here are a few tips and lessons I learned along the way.

Top Five General Moving Tips


•    Label every box on one side and on the top with specific descriptions ("China, champagne glasses, serving platters" vs. "Glassware: Fragile" is more helpful when unpacking)
•    Note  the room where each box should go
•    Pack items that should be grouped together
•    Leave boxes unsealed if there is any room leftover. At the last minute there is always a stray knickknack or forgotten item that needs to be stashed somewhere
•    Plan for everything to take more time than it needs to: It always does!


Top Five Tips for Preparation (3-6 weeks out)


•    Save some cash a few months ahead of time for the cost of movers, packing materials and a shopping trip to Target or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Moving always costs more than it should, and it's nice to be prepared.
•    Purchase all your moving supplies before you begin packing (tape, boxes of varying sizes, packing paper, bubble wrap)
•    Before packing ANYTHING, recycle or give away as much as possible. Stacks of already-read magazines and old movie tickets don’t need to move with you. Donate anything you haven't used or worn in a year or more to Goodwill.
•    Pack items you don’t use often, first– holiday decorations, books, extra sheets and blankets.
•    Let your groceries run out. Food is a pain to move, especially cold items. Just know that you’ll eat takeout or Lean Cuisines for a week as the pantry contents dwindle.

Top Five Tips for the Last Minute


•    Pack a tote bag with essentials: a change of clothes, a tube of mascara, a clean pair of socks and undies, toothbrush, a nail file and lip balm. Keep the tote by your purse on moving day so you have the basics by your side.
•    Have a designated container for phone chargers, laptops, TV cords etc. These items are easy to misplace, and we all know how aggravating it is when they’re missing.
•    Pack COMPLETELY before movers arrive. My movers told me it’s frustrating when they show up and people are still packing – it slows them down and costs you more.
•    Don’t forget to clean your freezer and fridge and check the washer and dryer. I left behind an entire load of clean towels in our apartment and will never see them again.

•    Do one last-minute load of laundry so you have clean clothes and towels on hand. It's easier than having to do laundry at a new place before you know how the washer/dryer work or where they are.

And remember, breathe. It will all be over soon.

Did we forget anything? Let us know in the comments below! Also, you can print this list for easy reference!

Published in Lifestyle
Monday, 26 March 2012 17:01

Life of the party! - Dinner party ideas

September 12, 2011

Picture this: Your apartment turned into an elegant lounge… candles lit, wine flowing, flowers arranged, [insert you favorite musician] playing, your perfectly-set table overflowing with delicious food you have prepared. (Yes, you!) And best of all, all your friends and loved ones are there, having the time of their lives and admiring you: their amazing hostess (and following you into the kitchen to corner you for recipes.) This isn’t just a fabulous fantasy. With a little preparation and planning, you can throw your very own - grown up - dinner party.

The Invite

On the difficulty scale, a dinner party falls somewhere between cooking dinner for two and a full-fledged party. It’s important to plan this dining experience a bit in advance. It’s always polite to give at least a week’s notice to guests, but do two weeks if you can. Since this is a smaller gathering of people, announcing your dinner early will really make a difference in who shows up and who doesn’t.

When you’re deciding who to invite, consider your guests carefully. About 10 people is enough for a dinner party. Remember, this needs to be a crowd that can sit down to dine together. You want people who will be good conversationalists, are not party animals, and will be able to contribute to the party by bringing a dish or a bottle of wine, if needed. Make sure you are aware of any special dietary needs before party planning commences, as it would be embarrassing to encounter such a problem at the table.

Once you have your guest-list down, it’s time to let everyone know about the party.  The internet offers plenty of ways to invite people, so which way is the best way?  You may want to consider Facebook first.  Most people that you want to attend are probably already on the site and Facebook’s event posting feature will provide you with a constant tally of guests. There’s also a wall to write on, which makes it easy for people to share what they are contributing or ask you questions.  If you’d rather not go the Facebook route, Evite is another great alternative with a wall-like feature for sharing. If the party you are hosting is especially fancy and you have more time to prepare, never underestimate the power of a hand crafted invitation.

The Food

Once you have your RSVPs, it’s time to start planning out the dinner and drinks. Courses are always a good idea, as they prolong the party and keep a classier tone.  Apértifs and appetizers are great openers, allowing guests to mingle without holding bulky plates and glasses. When planning your menu,  Allrecipes.com is a trusted favorite for ideas, listing dishes by ingredients, lifestyle, and course. I’m also a fan of yumsugar.com, which has recipes for savory beginnings as well as sweet endings.

The Ambiance

For décor, you want to keep things in line with your party. If it’s a more elegant affair, make sure glassware and actual cutlery are available for guests. If there is a theme surrounding your party, don’t be afraid to get creative with novelty tableware and decorations.  For example, I recently threw a Godfather themed dinner party. My boyfriend made pizza, guests were asked to bring Coppola wine, and all desserts and appetizers were Italian-themed. Plates and napkins were red, white and green paper (to match the Italian flag). In between courses, we watched the first two Godfather films.  This is just one idea – what would be the most fun for you and your guests?  Whatever you decide on, make sure everything is accessible so your guests feel as comfortable as possible. Bottom line: if everyone feels at home, they will be more likely to relax and have fun.


The Hostess With the Mostest

When the big day finally arrives, be sure to play hostess. Remember, it’s your idea, your party, and your space… you have the power to make this party a successful one. First, make sure you dress the part: be comfortable, but also set the bar for guests. In other words, no sweats! I also recommend wearing an apron. Whether you cooked or not, this gives the appearance that you prepared everything (which you did, right?!), and it will protect your clothes while pouring wine and serving, etc. Get dressed early. Nothing is less classy than your guests being more prepared to the party than you are.

Also, it’s up to you to keep the conversation and drinks flowing. When it comes to wine, I am really impressed with Francis Ford Coppola’s mix of classy and tasteful lines, such as Diamond, Director’s Cut, and my favorite: The Reserve Collection (franciscoppolawinery.com). A couple times a year Bev-Mo has their 5 cent sale, which is a great time to stock up (bevmo.com). One of my personal favorites from this sale is L’Attitude 39 (lattitudewines.com). For the perfect finish, there’s nothing as impressive as Korbel’s Port (store.korbel.com). This is a blend of port, zinfandel and brandy, so it’s not overwhelmingly sweet.  If you really want to treat your guests with some premium wines, you might want to look into Lot18.com, which is like HauteLook for beverages.

Never let the party get out of control, out of swing, or dull. When guests arrive, be certain to make introductions.  Don’t forget the lesson we learned from Bridget Jones’s Diary: it is important to introduce people not only with a name, but with a fact or interesting back story so that when left alone, guests can make conversation. Remember, nothing will ever go as planned, so being prepared to confront and work with the unexpected is a must. Coming with the territory of being a good hostess is being a bit of a caretaker as well. Always have room on the couch for at least one person, serve plenty of water, and offer to call a cab if necessary.

Dinner parties are no longer conventions of the 1950s. They allow you to interact and converse with your favorite people without using Facebook, Twitter or texting. Imagine that! This is the perfect opportunity to bust out those recipes you have always wanted to try. And if you are still apprehensive about cooking, you can always buy premade meals from the store and add your own twist. Don’t take yourself too seriously; this is a party, after all. And if there’s one thing we can all use more of in this life, it’s a reason to celebrate. Bon Appetit!

Published in Lifestyle
Monday, 27 February 2012 08:03

Business | When Someone Owes You Money

February 27, 2012 

Relationships can be hard enough to manage without the added stress of the almighty dollar. So, what do you do when someone you care about owes you money? Siblings drift apart, best friends become enemies and working relationships become hostile if borrowing money isn’t handled properly. Here we examine three ways to talk to your friends, family, and even coworkers about cash in a respectful way. 

Scenario: Your Little Sister Becomes a Big Freeloader

Most of us have either lent or borrowed money from a family member before. It’s natural to want to help those who are closest to us, but when does loaning money go from being helpful to harmful to your relationship? For example, there’s nothing wrong with loaning your little sister who’s in college some cash to buy books for next semester. But what happens when she’s hitting you up when she wants a new dress for homecoming, a plane ticket for spring break, or for you to pay her phone bill? 

How to deal: 

In situations like this, loaning out money is actually harmful…to your sister. Instead of learning to manage her funds wisely--which is part of becoming a responsible adult--little sis’ is being careless with her money and expecting you to foot the bill. It’s best to have a frank conversation that goes something like, “I love you and I don’t mind helping you with the occasional school expense. However, I want you to be independent and learn how to manage your money responsibly. Why don’t we sit down next week and create a budget that works for you?” 

This lets her know that you care about her and want to help, but that you are drawing boundaries in your relationship. She’ll thank you for it in the long run and you eliminate an unhealthy pattern of co-dependence that can lead to resentment in the future. 

Scenario: Your B.F.F. thinks you are a B.A.N.K.

It’s easy to lose track of money with friends in a social setting. Spotting someone at the movies and picking up the tab at dinner are part of reciprocally altruistic relationships. But what happens when you always pay for dinner, buy the concert tickets, and loan cash without ever being paid back? How do you approach the situation without coming off as a penny pinching miser? 

How to deal: 

I’ve found one of the best ways to deal with this situation is to establish boundaries in a fun way. One option is to take turns treating each other when you go out. That way there’s no awkward conversation about who owes who money. So the next time your mooching friend asks you to pick up the tab, try saying, “Sure. This one’s on me. Next time, it’s your treat.” If you keep it light and smile, you’ll establish a boundary without embarrassing your friend, who might not even realize she’s taking you for granted. 

Scenario: Mixing Business with Money

The same approach can also work well in a professional situation as well. However, it’s best to avoid borrowing and lending cash to co-workers altogether. You don’t want to go from being best buddies with Becky in accounting to thinking, “B*&%! better have my money!” every time you pass her desk. If you can’t afford to give it without them paying you back, then you really can’t afford to help.       

“Bank of You” User Agreement

When someone hits you up for some cash, it’s best to talk about it, set boundaries, and avoid large sums. My experience has taught me that it’s best to avoid lending money altogether, but if you must here are a few tips I recommend to keep your relationship intact:

1.  Make sure you can afford it! If you can give the loan from extra money you have saved up, that would be best. The last thing you want to do is go into debt trying to help someone else.

2.  Evaluate the relationship. Make sure that you—and your relationship with this person—will be just fine if you are never repaid one penny. 

3.  Make it legal. For only $8, you can download a promissory note from Nolo.com and have your friend or relative agree to sign a simple loan document. It should detail the amount borrowed, when repayment will start, and the interest you will be paid. 

True friends will understand and respect your financial boundaries. If not, then they probably are not great friends to begin with. #LoanDenied 


Published in Business
Thursday, 23 February 2012 07:29

Day 23: Surviving Setbacks

February 23, 2012

You're a Made Woman. So chances are, you like to have at least a loose plan in place. Get married by 30, go back for your master's within the next couple years, launch your dream business by next summer. Plans are great, right? Right. But at times it can seem like life is laughing at (and then promptly sh*tting on) these seemingly perfect plans. If you're anything like me, you've had many a wrench thrown your way. Sometimes it feels like as soon as you start to gain momentum, yet another issue rears its ugly little head. Maybe you didn't get that promotion you had your eye on. Maybe you made a costly error at work or in your business. Maybe you're going through a tough break up, or even suffered a family tragedy. Whatever the case may be, it's first necessary to realize this: you're not alone! You WILL get past this, and you will be stronger for it. I know from personal experience that your mindset is everything when it comes to overcoming setbacks.  Wondering how I get my mind right? Read on.

Your first thought might be to close all of your blinds, hit up your boys Ben & Jerry, and treat yourself to a good old fashioned pity party. But I'm guessing that won't do much to lift your spirits (or your ass). My advice? Let off some steam! Face the situation head on.  Don't be ashamed to cry if you need to, write an angry letter to your boss (and immediately shred and/or burn it) or go to a kickboxing class. A walk on the beach or somewhere else in nature can also do the trick. Do whatever it takes to get that messed up energy out of your system and get in the frame of mind to move past it.

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Once you've acknowledged the situation, take a look around. Think about how blessed you are to be where you are at this very moment. Chances are, at least a handful of people would gladly trade places with you, tear-stained face and all. Think about all of the once (seemingly) insurmountable hurdles you've left far, far behind you. Remind yourself of your strength, your strong will, your ability to come up with creative solutions to problems. It was you that persevered through a recession and landed your dream job. It was you that mustered up the strength to walk away from that toxic relationship you were in. It was you that cared for a loved-one when he had nobody to turn to. Don't ever forget where you've been, and how those experiences have shaped you. Use these memories to help you re-evaluate where you are and what your next steps will be.

Then, it's simply a matter of moving forward. Take that first step. You may not know where it will lead, but forward motion is always better than being stagnant. I don't know the details on your particular setback, so I can't tell you whether you need to keep working toward that promotion or start looking at other job opportunities. Nor can I tell you if you should start dating again, or just give it some time. I definitely can't give you a step-by-step guide to overcoming a personal loss. But I can tell you this: keep going. Keep working. Keep appreciating the people and the little things around you. Before you know it, the clouds will part and you'll be able to make some sense of it all.  And you'll be able to appreciate the sun that much more.


This post was part of our series "30 Days of Made: Love Yourself." Each day we released updates of videos, poetry, images, and original content, all based on the theme of loving yourself. Click the link to read more!

Published in Current
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