The only thing better than walking down the street with a clutch of flowers is knowing what to do with them when you get home. For advice on how to create a joy-inducing bouquet, we went to Jun Piñon, of Piñon Design in San Francisco, who teaches flower arranging to 2,000 people a year at places like the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons:
Keep your arrangements simple. People tend to put so much stuff in, and their house ends up looking like a Mafia funeral parlor. Do ten sunflowers in a cluster. And everyone loves cymbidium orchids, which aren't that expensive and can last for three weeks. Or you can always do a monochromatic arrangement of different flowers, all together, in a bright color.2. Chocolate
Be creative with your containers. I've done arrangements in a soup tureen, a martini glass. Look in your cupboard.
If you're buying flowers from your local supermarket, stick with roses. They're the most popular choice, so there's lots of turnover of stock. Just make sure the blossoms are a little bit hard in the center—that means they're still fresh.
It's impossible, really, to go wrong with chocolate. But you can make the experience more exquisite, says Maribel Lieberman, owner of MarieBelle Chocolates in New York City:
A square or a bar of chocolate has to be eaten at room temperature. With truffles, I like the thin, crispy coating to be cold, so I chill them in the refrigerator for five minutes before serving.3. New Shoes
Chocolate purists love fragrant chocolates, which means ones that have strong flavor. Give them the darkest chocolate possible. Children tend to like milk chocolate, and when it comes to fillings, you can't miss with caramel. If you're buying something for a chocoholic, pick exotic flavors. We've found that chocolate addicts are often more willing to try unusual varieties like cardamom or Earl Grey.
"I love working with women," says Thomas Khadafy, a top-selling shoe salesman at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City. "They come in relaxed and in a good mood." Khadafy knows that cute shoes can make your day but can also die a slow death in your closet. He has a few ways to avoid buyer's remorse:
The most important thing is to pay attention to foot size. A lot of women are steadfast, saying, 'I wear a 7,' but size varies according to the designer. European shoes are narrow, so you may have to go up a size.4. A Bath
I've noticed that when a woman shops with her friends, they'll convince her to get a style she's never going to wear. Trust your own instincts, and don't cave in to that peer pressure.
If you're looking for something new: The colors this season are navy and gray. Chocolate brown is big, too. And for fabrics—this season it's velvet.
Use shoe pads. We all have different problem areas, and few of us can afford custom shoes. These little cushions can make almost any pair you have feel more comfortable."
For this one, we went to Dee Patel, a bath concierge. (It's a relatively new service, offered at only a handful of hotels.) Patel oversees a staff of four who draw 300 baths a year-at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville. She says filling the tub is only the beginning of the perfect soak:
The ideal temperature for a bath is between 95 and 100 degrees. The best way to test the water is not with your hand but with your wrist, one of the most sensitive parts of your body.
We use aromatherapy baths at the hotel—lavender is a good scent to soothe and relax if you've had a long week; eucalyptus is great after a workout or for respiratory relief.
Shut the door, dim the lights, and take out the good towels. A 15- to 30-minute soak is ideal. After that, your skin starts wrinkling and the bath gets cold.
Blanche Richardson is the general manager of Marcus Book Stores in Oakland and San Francisco, the oldest and largest black bookstore in the country. She recommends dozens of titles every day:
Don't stick to titles by the same author or within the same genre. Don't judge a book by its cover—or the blurbs on the back—read the flap!6. A Trip
The best lighting is not too dim or too bright. Avoid fluorescent lighting or direct sunshine. I wouldn't spend a lot of money on a fancy reading light. I use a gooseneck lamp next to my bed and a floor lamp in the living room.
Make a designated time for reading every day: Find a comfortable space, away from distractions of people and noise and daily pressures. There's evidence that reading lowers your blood pressure, and that reduces stress."
The single biggest mood-wrecker on a vacation, says Raschinna Findlay, luxury travel specialist at Protravel International in Beverly Hills, is usually your flights. Findlay has a few ideas for getting from point A to point B smoothly:
If there are 50 people waiting for a taxi in the airport, get a porter—he'll rush you right to the front.7. A Massage
Always, always get a seat assignment when booking the flight, because if the airline has oversold, they'll bump the people without a seat assignment first.
If you're in economy, try to get an exit row, which has more legroom. Do anything to avoid the last couple of rows of the plane, because they're near the bathrooms and can be unpleasant.
If you want to book a trip with frequent flier miles, I recommend starting 11 months ahead of time.
The mistake most people make with a massage is to grab a friend and knead the shoulders with their fingers. "The tips of your fingers are really tiny," says Ed Moffett, bodywork specialist at El Monte Sagrado, a spa in Taos, New Mexico, "so they don't do a good job." To give a knockout back rub, follow his technique:
You want to use the big parts of the hand—the palm and the heel.8. An Overnight Guest
You can use even your elbow. For instance, if you're standing behind someone sitting in a chair, put your elbow on the shoulder muscle, where there is always a lot of tension. Lean gently, very slowly, applying pressure for three or four breaths. Then move your elbow an inch or two away and put pressure in the next area.
The key to a really good massage is long, slow, deep. Just think 'LSD.' And feedback is very important: Ask your partner, 'How is the pressure, on a scale from one to ten? How deep am I now?' You want a seven or an eight. Most important is: 'Does this feel good?' Ask again and again, and adjust your technique accordingly."
Charles Kaval, guest specialist at New York's Four Seasons Hotel, is the authority on how to make a room feel inviting:
Tuck a sachet bag between your guests' linens a day before your friends arrive, in a subtle scent like lime, cucumber, or melon. Or spray L'Occitane's linen water in verbena on the sheets—everybody loves it.
Four pillows are ideal, so your guests can prop themselves up in bed to read or watch television. Lay out slippers, because who remembers to pack slippers? You can buy inexpensive terry cloth ones at Price Club or Costco. They can be a gift for your guests to take home.
Always put a light snack such as fruit and a nice bottle of water by the bed, because a lot of people feel funny about asking for something to eat. Also, put an alarm clock in their room. If your guests have to catch an early plane, they won't have to ask you to get them up.
Jancee Dunn is the author of a memoir of her life as a rock journalist, But Enough About Me (HarperCollins).
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