Happy New (School) Year!

When I was in school, I was a total school supply nerd, always looking for fun, colorful notebooks and supplies.  I'm still a big fan of school supplies, only now I call them "office supplies" and use them to stock my desk and travel bag. Since I'm also currently working on a master's degree, that gives me an excuse to pick up a few cute notebooks. 

So, I am excited to once again team up with Office Depot and Office Max to show some of the cutest new supplies for back-to-school!  While Trapper Keepers in primary colors were about the fanciest thing you could find when I was in junior high, the choices are so much better now.  Even more, kids can customize them and bling them out with cute stickers, pom poms, charms, tassels, and more!

From colorful backpacks like this High Sierra Loop Flower Daze to packs from Speck and other popular brands, they have all of the styles kids love - and high-quality brands that score high on parents' shopping lists.

I don't know about you, but I'm thinking a few of these pencil cases would make fabulous makeup bags.

Here are a few of my favorites!

Home Sweet Dorm

Midsummer always puts me in a back-to-school mindset.  Cute new school supplies hit the shelves, and I get to work with Bed Bath & Beyond to decorate dorm rooms for TV shows and share tips on organizing a stylish and functional space.  

This year, I'm more in the college state of mind than usual, since I am in the midst of doing a master's degree program online.  While I don't have a dorm room to decorate, gearing up for these shows always inspires me to do a bit of redecorating and organizing in our little Manhattan apartment.

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Whether you are planning that first dorm or apartment, or you're a junior or senior who wants to change things up a bit from previous years, here are a few tips:

Do your homework.  It is exciting to shop for the dorm or new apartment, but if you're living in student housing, check the school's website to get the floor plan, what is furnished, and - importantly - the list of things prohibited in student housing.  Checking in with your roommate to plan who will bring what can also save time and money.  

Sleep tight.  That dorm bed has probably been around awhile, so you'll want to layer linens to make it cozy and comfy.  A memory foam mattress topper will give you a comfy and supportive foundation, and a mattress protector that completely encases the mattress is great for people with allergies.  Top it all off with a comforter set or bed-in-a-bag that expresses your personal style and sets the tone for the overall room decor.

Multi-task.  Space is limited, so bring things that can do double- or triple-duty for you.  If your bed can be lofted, these bed lifts create tons of extra storage space underneath - and the extra power and USB outlets on them come in handy with all of the gadgets that have to be charged. Storage cubes provide storage and decorative accents, and also serve as seating or footstools.  Desk and floor lamps with USB outlets provide needed light and charging space, and over-the-door or hanging closet organizers can corral everything from shoes and sweaters to school supplies and snacks.

Travel light.  When I headed to college for my freshman year, there was barely room for me in my parent's van after we packed in all of my stuff.  I wish I could have had a program like Bed Bath & Beyond's "Pack & Hold" program. You do your shopping at a store close to home, but they then package everything for you to pick up at the store closest to college!  No packing, shipping, or schlepping.  

Get expert advice.  Bed Bath & Beyond is offering free in-store events in July, where you can shop with an expert, learn how to organize your room, and get access to special offers.  Check the this schedule to find an event near you.

Happy shopping!

Dinner, the New-Fashioned Way

New York City is filled with amazing restaurants.  French, Indian, Italian, Greek, sushi, steakhouses, vegan, vegetarian, pizza, diners, mac and cheese (yes, there are mac and cheese restaurants!) - whatever you're the mood for, you'll find it.

That said, since both Scott and I travel so much, on nights that we are at home, I really prefer to head into our tiny Manhattan kitchen and make our own dinner.  I love to cook, and Scott washes the dishes, so we're a pretty good team.  Don't get me wrong - I'm always up for a date night to a new or favorite restaurant - but for your average weeknight evening, I really prefer to DIY dinner.

With a hectic travel schedule, and tons of office work when at home, I don't always have a lot of time to plan meals, grocery shop, and prepare lots of ingredients.  I had looked into several of the popular meal kit delivery services to use from time to time, but "subscriptions" that require you to commit to a certain number of meals each week just don't cut it for people who have weird schedules like ours.

So, I was excited when Tyson Tastemakers contacted me about partnering with them to do several TV segments about their meal kits that just launched in grocery stores in Texas.  I immediately shopped for a few on Amazon, where you can buy them if they are not yet in stores in your area. 

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What I love is that everything is already portioned, prepped, and ready to go.  The veggies are sliced and diced, the meat is perfectly marinated, and your side dishes are included, so all you have to do is take a quick look at the recipe card, follow the very simple instructions, and congratulate yourself for making a fancy meal with little time or effort.  The ones I have made so far go from fridge to table in half an hour or so, including this Citrus Rum Glazed Chicken (which includes an amazing side of cilantro lime rice!), the Tuscan-Style Pork Loin with Pork Belly Pasta, and the Smoky Carne Asada Street Tacos.  They are rolling out new seasonal meal kits as well, so you'll never get bored with the selection.

As far as portions go, one kit is perfect for dinner for Scott and me, with a few bits of leftovers depending on the meal, so you will not go hungry.  Since the whole process only uses one or two pans, there are fewer dishes for Scott to wash, but he hasn't complained yet.

Bon appetit!  If you try them, please let me know what you think!

On-the-Air: Dallas

For almost 10 years, I did one or two segments each month on "Good Morning Texas."

It had been awhile since I appeared on the show, and I was so excited to return last week!  It was to great to see friends who still work on the show, and to see another friend who started co-hosting the show last year.

With co-host Jane McGarry on "Good Morning Texas."

With co-host Jane McGarry on "Good Morning Texas."

The shows broadcasts from WFAA's Victory Park studio, which is adjacent to the American Airlines Center.  For those familiar with my long-term relationship with American Airlines (six million miles...and counting!), it seems appropriate to have my segment up on the big screen out on the plaza.

It was also great to see my friend Alanna Sarabia, who has been a co-host of the show since last year.  We knew each other when she co-hosted a show I do in San Antonio.  Indeed, TV is a very small world!

When (Jury) Duty Calls

New York City is a pretty good place when it comes to jury duty.  You are notified a couple of months out that your number is up, and that you can expect a summons to arrive.  Once received, if you cannot make your assigned date, you simply call and use an automated system to designate a replacement date.  Easy peasy.

I did just that the two previous times I was called.  This time, however, my summons actually fell on Monday of the only week between now and September that I am not already scheduled to travel for work.  

So, I did a little happy dance, packed my oversized tote with my newspapers, iPhone, iPad, charger, and bottled water, and got ready to fulfill my responsibility as a citizen of the greatest city in the world.  And, as New Yorkers will tell you, do a little celebrity spotting, because nobody but nobody is excused from reporting.  The jury rooms downtown on Centre Street are known for hosting famous - and infamous - folks who are appearing to do their civic duty.

Full disclosure: I am one of those people who likes jury duty, so this is not a post about trying to avoid it.

(Cue "Law & Order" theme music here).

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A bit of background.  Since moving to New York 20 years ago, I have been called twice. The first time, I was picked for a civil case, a trial that lasted a week.  We reached a verdict on Friday night, and I was back in the work saddle in Monday morning.

The second time, I learned something very important when it comes to jury service.  If you have served on a jury that reached a verdict, your odds of ending up on future juries increases dramatically.  In this instance, when I was in voir dire for a criminal case, the first thing they asked potential jurors was whether they had served previously, and if so, did they reach a verdict.  Everyone who could answer those two questions in the affirmative were seated for that jury.  Every. Single. One.  Including yours truly.  Because hey, trials are time consuming and expensive, and judges and attorneys like people who can deliberate and reach decisions.

So yesterday, when I was immediately called into voir dire along with 84 other Manhattanites, I was ready to spend the week in Criminal Court.  (In Manhattan, you are only required to be available to serve for five days, since judges recognize that many people cannot serve for longer trials).

However, far from being one of the "minor" cases I served on previously, this was a murder trial in a very heavily-publicized case, and expected to last three to four weeks.  Since I am already scheduled to travel each of the next six weeks - not to mention the fact I remember some facts about this case - the judge dismissed me, and sent me back to the jury pool for other cases.

By 3:30 p.m., the clerk announced they did not need the rest of still sitting in the jury room, handed us our proofs of service, and sent us on our way for the next six years. 

Have you ever served on a jury?  If so, how was the experience?