Fru Gal

The adventures of a Frugal Gal as she seeks the best that little money can buy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Eat dessert first - for free!

You have to love a restaurant which celebrates desserts, listing them first in the menu and pushing salads and sandwiches to the back under the headings "Pre-desserts" or "Preludes". Finale, a self-described desseterie with branches in Boston and Cambridge, celebrates the carpe diem phrase - "Life is short, eat dessert first."

Butter, sugar, cream, chocolate, fresh fruit - the stuff that dreams are made of - are presented in traditional and contemporary combinations, each appearing at your table like a miniature stage set or a finely wrapped Christmas present.

And once a year, decadence is absolutely free.

Finale offers a customer reward program - the Friends of Finale. When you sign up you receive a gold Finale card. Present it each time you order dessert, or "preludes", and earn points you can spend on more tastes of heaven (as a bonus, just for signing up for the card they'll give you 25 points).

First among the many membership perks of being a Friend of Finale is a free dessert on your birthday. That's right, order the flourless chocolate cake, the personal cheesecake, the creme brulee, the death by chocolate, whatever your vice - for you, for once, it's free.

This customer loyalty reward program also includes invitations to wine tastings and dessert premiers. Yes, you read that right. When the Red Sox won the World Series, Finale got into the spirit with Sox Celebration, a dessert as worthy of a red carpet premiere as any Hollywood starlet.

Finale is located in Cambridge in Harvard Square, and in Boston in the Boston Park Plaza.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

click click click - cheap bastard philanthropy

Every morning when I log into my computer at work I make a point of heading to thebreastcancersite.com where with a quick click on the pink cyber-ribbon I can fund a free mammogram for a woman who can't afford one. That and a cup of Earl Grey tea really start my day out on the right foot.

This morning's work day began with a three hour BSR Advance computer training course. Now, I have alot of appreciation for this computer program, but if you have a room of 20 people running the same training scenarios on a training database the progress is sloooooooooow - high school Algebra slow, DMV auto registration slow.

As my computer slowly scrawled through data I considered that thebreastcancersite.com can't be the only click philanthropy available. A quick Google search on "click philanthropy" immediately produced a list of websites.

Within 3 minutes I had planted a tree in the rainforest, bought a winter coat for a poor child, and by voting for my favorite NFL team, donated a can of soup to a food bank. The rush of endorphins that these small acts of philanthropy produced made the morning pass pleasantly. That's what I call cheap bastard philanthropy.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The (Blue) Hills are alive

Sunday the weather was magnificent. Massachusetts has been getting all of its rare October days in November, with combinations of warm blue days and bright yellow leaves.

SG and I decided to go for a hike in the Blue Hills Reservation. Located just south of Boston, it took us just 25 minutes to get there in the usual weekend congestion of Rte 93. This highway can become a parking lot of fevered Cape Codders racing to relax.

It's from the native people of the Blue Hills that Massachusetts gets its name, it translates to "people of the hills." Unlike some of the other popular hiking parks in Mass., entry to the Reservation's hiking and multi-use (read bikes, people and horses) is free.

We arrived just after noon, and pulled over on the shoulder, the parking lots already full. We had forgotten to buy water for the hike, and at the park's water fountains had been shut off for the post-season. After all, it wouldn't be unusual in Massachusetts for their pipes to freeze and burst by mid-November.

I spied a darkened soda and water vending machine at the edge of the parking lot. I waded through the weeds to find the electrical plug, and the machine quickly powered to life. I fed it two dollars, and promptly received 75 cents in change - but no water. The vending machine was dry and empty - so much for my Yankee ingenuity. SG unplugged the machine for me, and undetered, we entered the forest.

Despite the packed parking lot, there was little traffic on the trails. That may have been because the SG and I foolishly chose the second most challenging trail, identified by blue blazes (sadly, we did not have the opportunity to euphemistically curse - "what in the blue blazes do you think you're doing?" while on the trail). Within minutes of choosing the cheerful sky blue, we were climbing near ninety degree escarpments to the top of Hancock Hill. I wheezed and panted all the way, but kept on, because damn it, we were having fun.

From the top of Hancock Hill the view is truly panoramic. The Reservations hills and forest stretch to the south, and with a slow turn you can see all the way to the Atlantic coast, and further west, downtown Boston and the Charles River.

SG and I wandered through the small meadow atop the hill, among the slender birch saplings. As we stood had in hand, staring west to the sea, I was hoping the view might surpass, or at least match, the views of his native Blue Ridge Mountains. But I was contented to hear his review - "Not bad."

Not bad at all, for the cost of gas to Milton and a $1.25 donation to the Reservation's vending machine.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

the french consul's couch and the chocolat chaud

I have new zippered knee high boots. This is significant for two reasons, one is that I've never owned the zippered kind, having to settle for slouchy leather, thanks to my soccer player calves (oh, for the legs of a dancer). The second reason this is significant is that like any prudent Yankee, I decided to spray them with silicone before wearing them for the first time, making them water tight, but also very slippery.

The SG and I received a last minute invitation to the French Consul's home for a champagne reception last night. The invitation was the result of our volunteer work for a local film foundation, proving that some good deeds are rewarded. Excited to be going somewhere so swank, I decided to silicone the boots yesterday morning, in time for the 6 o'clock reception that evening. Eight hours and two coats of silicone later, I was on my way to the French Consul's home reeking of petroleum. I was convinced someone would sidle up to SG at the party and say - "your wife's skirt is too loud, and she smells like an oil well." The SG would smack the offender across the face with his wool gloves, and it would be crossed swords at sunrise.

We got to the French Consul's house fashionably late, bien sur, and much to my delight were offered a choice of wine, champagne, or kir. This crimson colored combination of champagne and cassis is a traditional French drink for celebrations, and one of my personal favorites. And how much better it tastes when served with what my friend M. called "the real stuff. the good stuff." Formidable! In a world's collide moment, I slipped into the living room to discover that the French Consul has the same couch as my mother. As my mother would put it, "who knew?"

An hour of cocktail chatter later, it was off to a viewing of a contemporary classic of French cinema, our free passes in hand. We opted for seats in the balacony, adding a vintage touch to the evening. The lights dimmed, and ninety minutes later we tried to sneak out, both bored and confused by the film. I'd like to say we were ninjas, moving through the darkness of the theater unobserved. But my new boots slipped out from under me (damn that silicone) and I tumbled down the last steps of the balcony into the main audience.

The SG helped me to my feet, and by the time we made it to the lobby, I was overcome with giggles of embarassment. So much for the sophisticate. So much for the Francophile. How could we balance our abandonment of le cinema? With another Francophile favorite - chocolat chaud.

LA Burdicks on Brattle Street in Cambridge is a cozy chocolatier that is usually packed with people enjoying their signature hot chocolate. It's nothing more or less than a hand made bar of dark chocolate melted into a cup and combined with just enough steamed milk to keep the mixture liquid. It's amazing - and the generous people of Burdicks will give you a large to-go cup of this elixir with a second to-go cup to share for just $4.50. The SG and I walked home, sipping the magic brew and laughing about our triumph, and my tumble, our elan completely restored.

The total for this evening of international extravagance - some volunteer hours, a nasty shin bruise, and $4.50 in cash. Super fantastique.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pyara pretty party (3x fast) free chair massage

One great thing about my job is the free copy of the Boston Globe we receive daily. Yesterday's "Sidekick," the insert which contains the comics and television show times, had a blurb advertising an open house at Pyara Salon featuring "free mini-treatments." I was intrigued by the idea of the mini-treatment - would they polish only one nail, trim only one brow?

I arrived at 5:30, halfway into the festivities. I was met at the door by a saloniste, who took my coat, gave me a coat check number, and escorted me into the products section to "learn more about their holiday offerings." I was just thinking of how to gracefully get my coat back - I wasn't there to shop, I was there for free swag - when she returned with a cup of Aveda signature herbal tea. The mint and licorice combination perked me up sans caffeine. As I drained the cup, I was invited to take a chair for my "finishing touch," with an aesthetician.

Given a choice between her applying eye, lip or cheek make-up, I chose the cheeks. After all, I was once humiliated into buying blush at a Mac counter by a salesman who was gung-ho on "women of my age" losing color in their face (I had just turned 30). It was time to explore what the fairer sex thought about cheek color. Moments later I had my first brush with liquid blush, or rouge, as my Nana would have called it. The affect was subtle, and seemed easy to apply - I could get into this.

I left my seat and was asked if I would like a consultation about my hair with the stylist. Now I have to confess, I haven't cut my hair since May. When my previous stylist raised her rates to $60, I decided it was time to start growing out my hair, perhaps to the point where I could donate a foot of it to wigsforkids.org. This great organization provides wigs to children who've lost their hair to chemotherapy. It would at last unite my cheap bastard tendences with philanthropy. The stylist examined my hair, and pronounced a profound need for a trim before my split ends roll right up to my skull. Even better, she patiently explained how to bring the wave out in my hair without hot rollers, a curling iron, or "scrunching." I left the chair feeling, well, empowered - a very rare response for me in a salon. As I was contemplating scheduling the cut, it was time for my chair massage.

Wow. It was amazing. I was transported. I think she released so many stress spots in my back that I may be a half inch taller. It was well worth the ticket price - which was nothing, except a cup of hot tea, some helpful advice, and a feeling of well being.

As I was leaving I signed up for the mailing list. Turns out they have these pretty party's once a month. So expect me back in the massage chair.

Oh, and I'm going back for my hair cut next week. It's not free - but it's not $60 either.

Monday, November 07, 2005

You spin me right round, baby, right round - holyokemerrygoround.org

On Sunday SG and I took our three nieces to Holyoke, Mass. to ride the Merry-Go-Round. Many shouts of glee insued from my nieces for the thrill of the ride, and many shouts of glee for the $1 a ride ticket price insued from me.

This is a beautiful, historic merry-go-round, with hand-carved and painted horses. It moves at a good clip, enough to thrill any under ten year old. There are both stationary horses (popular with parents and aunties going along for the ride) and more adventurous up-and-down horses. There's even two sledges for those who just want to sit comfortably and let the world spin past.

Adding to the experience is the cheap popcorn and soda, which can be enjoyed inside or outside in Heritage park.

The merry-go-round arrived in Holyoke in 1929 where it was a fixture of Mountain Park, a privately owned amusement park with wooden roller-coasters and spinners. When the park closed in 1987, the people of Holyoke raised the money through private donation to move the carousel down from the mountain and into Heritage park, across the street from the police station.

The merry-go-round is open Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and several holidays (including Veteran's Day this Friday).