Monday, January 26, 2015

I Am a Walking Viral Marketing Campaign For Iceland

I really am. I'm becoming obsessed. My time in Iceland changed me, you understand?

How long was this time in Iceland, you ask?

Exactly ten hours.

On our way to our Trip-For-Trash #2 to Scandinavia, we made a ten-hour stop-over in Iceland. Icelandair offered tickets that were $400 cheaper per person than the other airlines, so I figured that we could suffer in the airport if we had to.

Curious about time-killers, I Facebook-messaged Tarrytown's only Icelandair Saga Club member, Chuk Högnell of The Mighty Horseman Tattoo Co.: "Is there anything a family of 4 can do in Reykjavik during a 10 hr daytime layover that is reasonably interesting?"

All my tattoos are on the inside, thank you;
but I'm sure Chuk has plenty of customers without me.
Photo: Matthew Eisman

Chuk wrote back immediately:"Blue Lagoon."

I asked my equally-gorgeous-but-decidedly-not-Viking friend, Cher, who has flown from California to see the Northern Lights.

She wrote back: Blue Lagoon.

So, ok. Blue Lagoon!

Captures the spirit perfectly, Iceland Design Center!

Before I talk about the Blue Lagoon, there are a couple things you need to know about Iceland. Both can be gleaned from my two submissions for national motto:

Iceland: We've Made Some Bad Banking Decisions...Stay Awhile!

Iceland: Yes, We Do Accept That Currency!

Steinunn Þórarinsdóttir's Directions, in the main terminal of Keflavik Airport, is beautiful and functional:
each figure is embedded with a device to track which of the four corners of the earth Iceland's investments disappeared to.

Let's be clear: Iceland will pick your pockets. In fact, Icelandair will fast-track that process because they won't give you anything to eat unless you pay a ransom in the currency of your choice.

That said, their kindness towards children--free meals, headphones, convertible pillow/blanket embossed with Icelandic lullaby, and stickerbook--made up for the $20 they demanded for a baguette with ham and cheese.

photo from Yelp review
Also, their airline attendants are stunningly beautiful people who sold us the best liquor we've ever tasted: Björk.

Björk: that birch branch makes all the difference!
Yes, everything is expensive in Iceland, but it's also worth the money. How often do you get to say that with complete confidence?

So, Blue Lagoon: $50 gets you in, and maybe gets you a towel. Anything else is going to cost you. Once you're done battling your wristband-activated locker, shower off and get in to the milky blue, steamy waters...carefully, cuz it's hot. Like, geothermal-powerplant-is-literally-next-door HOT.
You won't see the plant and its own pool when you're soaking in the
Blue Lagoon, but you can't miss it as you drive past.
Photo: Blue Lagoon
Half an hour in the surprisingly-less-stinky-than-you'd-think waters: I was parboiled and having all my travel tension pounded out of my back by an artificial waterfall.

After that, I found myself meditative and people-watching. They were watching me, too, since we were all coated in the spa's silica clay... the only thing they're giving away at Blue Lagoon. (If you want to take some home, however, you're gonna pay.)

People-watching at the Blue Lagoon was a strange, blissful experience. It all looked--and felt--like a fusion of Japanese snow monkey documentary and Fellini's .
Thanks, AsianSpring! I believe in your mission!

"Which part is Fellini and which part is snow monkey documentary?" you ask.

Indeed: Which...


In any case, I got back on that plane happier than I'd ever felt during any travel experience. I repeat: Worth the money.

Another interesting aspect:

Have you ever felt vague existential grief, like you weren't worthy of your life?

No? I can fix that for you: visit Iceland.

My whole family got that "You think life is hard, my friend? Try surviving here for 1,200 years!" That's right: we got that feeling going from ultramodern Keflavik airport to THE SPA. Iceland--at least the tiny part of it we saw on the way to the Blue Lagoon--looks like a raw new planet, and not a warm new world like Hawaii.

Strange and compelling. Upon viewing this landscape, Badgerette #1 proclaimed,
"I will live here when I grow up!" The Man was all for it. How worried should I be?
Photo from the travel blog, Anywhere&Here
As soon as I could, I leaped into Wikipedia to read up on Icelandic history. The current population--almost all descendants of Nordic Viking fathers and Celtic "thrall" mothers--survived two brutal waves of the Black Death, one vicious attack of smallpox, the horrific 1783 eruption of the Laki volcano and the famine that followed.

After learning about Iceland's against-all-odds culture, I finally decided to see How To Train Your Dragon,  and I not only adored it...I believed every word.
Dragon Jump
I mean, check out the photo I took during descent!
I returned to Sleepy Hollow to discover that we are not the only residents to become raving Iceland-enthusiasts this summer. In fact, we're not even the only family at the bus stop to do so.

If Europe ever gives you that "come-hither" look, go thither, and take Icelandair up on their offer of a free seven-day layover. You might not have any money left by the time you arrive at your final destination, but I can guarantee that everything about Iceland is "reasonably interesting," so it will be money well spent.

copyright 2015, Tanya Monier

Sunday, January 18, 2015

California Road Trip, pt. 4: Thifting in Goleta

The iceman cometh to Sleepy Hollow

What a day: I only left my bed to eat waffles and play with the Badgerettes. Now, I'm back in my warm den and thinking fondly of winter in Santa Barbara. Locals swear that seasons exist on the Central Coast, but I don't give much credence to their categories:

Thanks for rubbing it in, Santa Barbara Company
Jacaranda season versus... knows what I'm talking about.
The SB Mission looked just like this in the first week of January.

...winter rose season. Bah humbug. Those thin-skinned beach people will never know the pleasure of ice skating on streets, like this local.
Thanks for the inspiration, Ossining Police Department! But I think I'll just stay under the covers...

So, other than the weather, does the Santa Barbara area have anything else to offer? Turns out, yes: thrift shopping.

I've written about Goleta's own Alpha Thrift once before. I love it, so I make a point of visiting its two Hollister Avenue stores every time I'm in town.

This year, I noticed something at the two Alpha stores that the locals have been complaining about: the prices!
See what I mean? Even if you catch the weekly half-price deal
(look for the signs about which color tabs are on sale),
it's too freaking expensive. 

Seriously, this is a THRIFT shop, right? Who's new to the pricing department, Alpha?

I was tempted by these $5 leather Børn slip-ons,
but I left them for you, just in case.
I was able to find a few beauties in the $2 "smiley-face stamp" rack, but I couldn't help feeling let down by my favorite Goleta thrift shop. So I moved on down the road, stopping next at Destined For Grace, at 5960 Hollister Ave.

Destined For Grace, which serves the children of Haiti, was offering some wild deals on Christmas decorations, and had good prices on men's and women's clothing. I am destined to return!

From Alpha or Destined For Grace, keep heading north on Hollister, then turn right onto Cortona Drive. At 6860 Cortona, you'll find another of my favorite places: Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which I also wrote about not terribly long ago.  It's big, clean, and full of stuff that I want for my own home.

Maybe I'm just getting desperate for a second bathroom in my sweet little hovel-for-four, but during this visit, I found the ReStore's bathroom items remarkably attractive.

If I bought this sink, the Badgerettes would open a public pool for Polly Pockets.

So classy, it has no place in my home, but I still LOVE it.

Reminds me of a Wayne Thiebaud painting.

Delicate, elegant, lovely. And, in my home, doomed.

These faucets remind me of a urinal, but not in an off-putting way.

ReStore's non-bathroom offerings are equally delightful.

Buy them all, then create your own hardware-themed homage to Wayne Thiebaud.


Anyone have a 2-story tall entryway? Get this 1920s stained glass panel. Trust me.

Even though ReStore's prices are not rock bottom, they are about 25-35% of retail, which justifies a trip there before you hit the Goleta Home Despot....Or just skip The Despot altogether, and go hit the beach.

Copyright 2014, Tanya Monier

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What's It Worth To You? The Pottery Barn Teen Desk Experiment

Brands mean something. To sell an object, sell an idea, the promise of "A Lifestyle."
Thirsting for Life? (and by "Life" I mean a NJ suburban marriage to a WWII GI with PTSD)
Drink Coke!

Consider the now less-than-ultracool Abercrombie & Fitch. Back in the early 2000s, one of my students succinctly summed up their Lifestyle Promise:
"They don't sell clothes. They sell the promise of sex in your friend's poolhouse while his parents are away." Bam, Baby. That there is a future marketing genius talking.

As you may know, I'm a craigslist hustler who resells curb finds for their "Use Value" --$15 for an end table, $5 a chair, $25 a desk.... Generally, my goal is to MOVE THE STUFF, since there will always, always, always be more on the curbs of Westchester County. 

But, every now and then, a friend gives me an interesting item, one whose brand name outstrips its use value so much that it begs for a craigslist experiment.

Consider, if you will, this Pottery Barn Teen Desk.

It retails for upwards of $1,100. Solidly made, with wainscotting on the side panels, pull out writing tables, four drawers, and modest amounts of visible storage.

Pottery Barn's promise, as it lounges, politely louche, in the corridors of malls across America, seems to be this: "When friends hint at your finances, say, 'We're Comfortable.' They'll either nod sagely (if in same tax bracket) or smile and seethe inwardly (if in lower tax bracket)."

To obfuscate this promise, Pottery Barn posts this cryptic paraphrase on their own website: "We believe that your home should be a haven. It's a place where you play, dine, work, sleep and dream. In short, it's where your life takes place."

I want to be a smartass and say, "Ohhhh, so I should be LIVING in my home. Like, sleeping and eating there, too? That's revolutionary, man." But my shame is not so deep when I confess that I like their stuff, too.

And, as most parents know, I'm not saying anything shocking when I note that this five year old desk was in almost flawless condition, since no matter your dream and budget, Mom, your kid's still going to refuse to use a desk and will instead plague you in the kitchen or develop back problems by working on the bed.

It's not the place I'd write my dissertation, but then again, no place is.

These are the actual craigslist post pics. Can't you just imagine your child tucking
away her precious belongings in these drawers...and promptly forgetting both where she put them
 and that she had the things at all, so that you need to go out and buy them all again? I sure can!
Can you make out that patch of crackled, or "crazed" glaze?
That 6-inch patch of paint made me crazed, too.
If I were doing my usual Badger thing, I'd have put a $120 price on this desk. But, I thought I'd be ambitious and ask for $250. I figured it'd sell in a week and I'd make some mama  grateful for the deal of a lifetime.

What I got instead were a string of New Jersey housewives who sneered at the tiny patch of crazed paint, looked me dead in the eye and declared, "I have to refinish the WHOLE THING. I'll pay you $150 for it."

I was raised by an Arabic Mama who bargained with Liberty House department managers over pulled sweater threads, sighing disappointedly when they gave her an extra 10% off. When they turned away, no doubt wondering what had happened to their life's dreams, she'd look us dead in the eye, too: "That's how you do it."

So, yeah, I got their game, but it gave me perverse pleasure to say, "Sorry, there's a lot of interest in this item. The price stays." By the third Housewife, I actually waved as she left, "Good luck with that Tappan Zee Bridge traffic! The construction is adding at least an hour to people's commutes!"

What the heck was going on? Three weeks, and still this thing sat in my house, taking up space I don't have to spare in our two-bedroom apartment.

Magda, my shrewd mama friend and eBay master, saw the problem: "Your price is appealing to the bitchy bargain hunters. Raise it a hundred and you'll be fine."

Well, yes, she was right.

I raised the price to $350, and that lovely Pottery barn desk found a new home in three days, to a local mama who was openly grateful for the deal of a lifetime.

Waving a fond farewell to the PB desk and holding a sheaf of fresh bills, I decided to try the higher-price-equals-sales-success model on my other craigslist items.

I have sold NOTHING for three months.
NOW who wants to act like a New Jersey Housewife?

copyright 2015, Tanya Monier

Sunday, January 4, 2015

California Road Trip, pt. 3: Salt Me Up

New York in winter: So cold, so leafless, so beautifully inert.

Goodnight, Hudson River. Thanks to Tarrytown's sublime Mary Westerfield for this photo.

But every year, my little crew traverses the continent for a few weeks with our families in California. Oh, Winter California--you lush, green, fertile land; I just hate you.

See what I mean? Ugh, what happened to my Golden State? Thanks for the pic, Friends of the Gaviota Coast.

Don't get me wrong: Christmas in California is always a great time--Grandparents, cousins, and aunties spoil the Badgerettes, we play on beaches, we crow at shivering locals, "You're cold? This isn't cold!" etc., etc.

But for me, the trouble is always the same: bronchitis and sinus infections brought on by being air-dropped into all this spring-like lushness.

Two Christmases ago, my best friend, a sassy little Kiwi named Toni, took my draggy, feverish, phlegmy self to Salt, a spa on State Street in Santa Barbara that features a pink Himalayan salt cave. It was miraculous natural therapy for respiratory infections, she insisted.

I rolled my eyes at the cave's New Agey introduction music, but settled in for 45 minutes of "meditation," breathing deeply...probably snoring, in fact.

slider 2
Kick off your shoes, grab a plush blanket, settle down on the recliners or on the pink salt floor,
and wait for the warm lights (behind the salt block walls!) to dim.

The next day, I was breathing notably easier. In three days, I felt good. I think the salt literally cured the bacteria in my lungs and sinuses, brined me like a piece of dried cod or a fine pastrami. I--born-and-bred antibiotic and steroid popper--became a salt convert.

This year's trip began as others did: We landed in glorious San Francisco, excited and fine. Two days later, I was holding my head, groaning, and hawking up wretched loogies by the antique Dutch windmill at the ocean end of Golden Gate Park. Google provided the names of two salt therapy spas in the Bay area. We chose the one nearest to The City (don't you dare call it Frisco, Friends), in the spanking cute little East Bay suburb of Walnut Creek.

Good Move! Elizabeth, the kind, conscientious, and camera-shy proprietor of Salt Spa, took excellent care of us.
Simple, clean, and 100% salted.

Get yer protective booties on before you breathe!

Salt Spa even has a playroom for the small. GREAT idea! 
With a solid layer of pharmaceutical-grade salt in my respiratory tract, I was ready to face the allergen empire that is Sacramento.

All was good until, ambitious badger that I am, I insisted on being present as The Prince of the Forest power-sawed my father's dusty, abandoned collection of fine redwood, purple heart, and maple burl pieces into rounded plates for my future film vase projects.

Stay tuned, you devoted Ukrainian Happy Badger Readers!
For those of you who are not my Allergist, tree pollens (especially evergreens) and dust are my worst allergies. Breathing all that sawdust? Bad Move!

Thank goodness, our next stop was Santa Barbara. On December 26, I crawled back into the cave at Salt. Bless them, they've saved my trip yet again. 

This gorgeous space is the Waiting Room! Dig your toes into the salt, and hope
that you have lots of time before your salt session begins.

While you're waiting, serve yourself a nice cuppa...

Salt's gorgeous gift shop offers salt bars and lamps, crystal jewelry,
salt-laced soaps, books about salt, and even salt that you can eat

Clockwise from left: Salt, Salt, Salt, Salt, Salt, and Salt.

Walking on backlit salt floors. So pretty.

You can get massages in private rooms or join exercise classes in the cave,
but I go for nap--uh, meditation sessions.
If you're in coastal California and suffering from allergies or other respiratory nightmares, do yourself a BIG favor:

Check out these salt therapy spas, and you, too, will understand the immortal lyrics of Mick Jagger, "If you salt me up, I'll never cough!"

That IS what he's singing, right?

Laughter is also good medicine: watch the whole nutty official video of "Start Me Up"

SaltSpa Walnutcreek
1538 Newell Avenue
Walnutcreek, CA 94596

740 State Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
805-963-SALT (7258)

Copyright 2015, Tanya Monier