Tag Archives: travel

Tips for Hotel Tipping and Then Some

Fran Berger's tips on tipping

Tips help make your trip more enjoyable – in more ways than one!

Fran Berger's travel tips on tippingI have done quite a bit of traveling in my lifetime and I’ve picked up tips and tricks along the way.

The big one for all international travel these days is to scan your passport, airline tickets, driver’s license, and itinerary and keep the images on iCloud or Dropbox (don’t forget to upload the app to your phone). That’s one of the nifty things about technology these days – full access to just about anything from just about anywhere. Take advantage of that convenience on your next trip.

Here’s another important one for international travel. I always use ATMs to get local currency (e.g., Euros) and always bring at least one credit card that doesn’t charge exchange fees. I don’t use the currency converters in airports and hotels anymore –  I save a small fortune by cutting out their very high exchange rates and fees. And, I always keep different currencies separate: I have separate sections in my travel wallet for my US Dollars and Euros or other foreign money.

There’s a burning question that I’m always asked: “Do I have to tip?” You never HAVE to tip anyone, but it’s a real faux pas if you don’t. Let me explain.

Starting at the airport – if you’re checking in curbside, $2 per bag is a very nice thing to do for those guys who are hefting bag after bag. They make sure your bags get to the plane.  But, they can do so much more than that sometimes.  My girlfriend travels with her small dog.  She makes sure she is at the airport really early for her flights but she always has extra paperwork for the dog that has to be checked.  So, when she gets to the curbside porter she makes sure he knows she will tip him very well if he helps her complete the paperwork for the dog.  It has been extremely helpful more than once.

Bellhops are on the same level as the curbside checkers. All they do is haul bags. I think it’s only fair to tip $1-2 per bag when they deliver your luggage straight to your room. Consider bumping that up if you have a lot of bags or you’re staying at a very nice hotel (like a five* – trust me, it comes back to you in more ways than you know).  Tip them after they’ve delivered your bags and explained your room.

Got a special request from housekeeping – maybe an extra pillow or the toothbrush you forgot to pack? Make sure you have at least $2 each time they deliver something. Another note on housekeeping, I tip $2-3 per every night I stay. If you’ve got extras in your room – kids, more than 1 of you, a mess, et cetera – then the tip is more like $4 to 5 per night.

Room service seems like a no-brainer. Of course, you’re going to tip the delivery steward. If gratuity is included in the bill, you can just add an extra $1-2 for the extra. If gratuity is not included, then don’t forget to tip as you would a restaurant: 15-20% of the check.

It used to be no question about tipping Doormen.  Maybe they’re just opening the door – but maybe they’re also helping you get a cab? Calling bellhops to help you? Giving you local travel tips? Unless they are only opening the door for you – you’ll want to give them $2 each time you pass. If you use Valet-Parking, then give the Attendant $2 to 3 each time they fetch your car.

I use the hotel Concierge all the time for restaurant reservations, theater and concert tickets, and questions about all sort of things. Generally, I tip $5 to $10 or more (for difficult to get reservations or tickets) per each time I come to the desk.

I know those tips add up but service staff live for their tips. Because the staff that serves you is not always the same each day – especially if you’re staying several days, then put all the accumulated tips into one envelope for each department at the end of your stay and mark the envelopes for every service you’re leaving tips: “Housekeeping, Room Service, Valet, Concierge, et cetera.” Drop off the envelopes at the front desk. The managers will make sure that the tips are shared appropriately with the staff that was on duty during your stay.

One last tip – if you are traveling overseas, check an online travel guide for the customs of the countries that you will be visiting.  For instance, in some countries, the gratuity is included in the bill. In other countries – like China and Japan for example – the staff will not take tips. According to my friend who has traveled to Japan many times, tipping is considered an offensive display of wealth and pity. But, on the other hand, in many places around South America, if you don’t tip you’re committing far more than just a mere faux pas!

But, let’s roll this back to the good ol’US of A. Here, in this country, tipping is a courtesy. It’s a mark of appreciation – that you received good service and you recognize the effort. And here’s another thing. Word gets around the “house” who tips and who does not. Need I say more?

4 Great Reasons Why Beverly Hills is a “Local Exotic” Travel Destination

Broiled Jumbo Nova Scotia Lobster - The Palm

Lucky you if you’re a LA Local: “Exotic” Beverly Hills’ is just a drive away!

I love to vacation in exotic places. But who says “exotic” has to be far faraway? I’ve been living in Beverly Hills for more than twenty years. I’ve owned restaurants here, raised a family, made all kinds of friends, and I’ve learned so many things. Like anywhere else though I suppose, it’s easy to take your own backyard for granted.

But I don’t like to take anything for granted. I’m constantly looking for places in my own neighborhood to eat and be entertained. So, I’ve taken it upon myself to do more exploring locally – even to places that are very well known to me and my friends. I’ve mapped out of a few favorite places around Beverly Hills that are so fun, I think they definitely qualify as part of the “local exotic” scene.

Let’s start at The Palm Beverly Hills. A fabulous landmark restaurant located on Canon Drive’s well-known “restaurant row.” This is the ‘rebuilt’ Palm – the old one was in West Hollywood for more than 40 years and had to move after their lease ran out. But what a rebuild – it’s beautiful!  I go with a girlfriend when either one of us gets the “urge” for lobster! Because I like my clams served without a lot of stuff to blur their sweet taste, I always call ahead to ask them to set aside at least a dozen to serve simply steamed with drawn butter to start. If I’m feeling a bit healthy we share a classic wedge salad with lettuce, crisp bacon, ranch dressing and the blue cheese on the side (blue cheese isn’t my favorite).  Then we get down to my favorite part of the meal – the”Broiled Jumbo Nova Scotia Lobster.” Always order a 4-pound female lobster to share. Female lobster tails are larger than the male’s, and really, isn’t the tail the best part? Be sure to order the best creamed spinach you’ve ever tasted to enjoy with your lobster and you have the perfect meal! They’re open for lunch and dinner and I always suggest reservations.

How about brunch on Saturday or Sunday? I highly recommend The Blvd restaurant at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills for their unlimited Champagne Bar.  They serve Perrier-Jouët Champagne – which is a really great bottle of bubbles – and also offer orange juice (for Mimosas) or peach (for Bellinis).  But I always say – why mess with a good thing- if the bubbles are that good you should enjoy them all by themselves. And, the great thing is that you really can’t go wrong with anything on the brunch menu. The dining room is a beautiful backdrop for a lazy afternoon – or request a table outside and do some serious people watching while enjoying your champagne.  Definitely make reservations if you want to go.

Want casual dining but with a flair for the refined? South Beverly Grill on South Beverly Drive fits the bill. It’s one of those places where you can really feel at home for lunch or dinner.  The food and service is consistently good!  They have one of the best cheeseburgers around, definitely order it with fries. If you’re over 21 sit at the bar and try to be in George’s section,  I think he’s one of the best bartender in Beverly Hills. No reservations for the bar, but if you want a table, I recommend reservations, especially for dinner.

Hopefully there’s a concert you want to see while on your vacation, and there’s no better venue than the world-famous Hollywood Bowl. My favorite thing to do during the summer is to make a plan with friends, get a box, bring a picnic for “al fresco” dining and listen to my favorite music.  They have something for everyone – special themed nights like “sing-a-longs” (this season one night was The Sound of Music) or the Los Angeles Philharmonic – Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, classical music, jazz and so much more.  It’s absolutely magical – food, music, a warm summer night and the stars.  Not sure it gets any better.

And now you know some of my personal favorites!

Not Your Usual Pasta Making Class

I’m going to confess something here, (for those that know me it’s not that big of a secret), I absolutely love pasta in all its’ forms.  I will eat it hot, cold, with or without sauce – I’m shameless when it comes to this particular carb.  But, I never actually attempted to make it at home.  I always assumed (we all know what we get when we assume anything) that it was a complicated process even though I’d been assured many times by my chef friends that it was really a very simple one.

So, when I was planning one of my Relationship Recipe events, I tapped an Italian friend, one of my experts who loves to teach people to cook, to give the group a lesson on pasta making.  He was delighted with the prospect and the event was a spectacular success.  We all learned that if we used his technique making pasta was indeed really simple to do – a little messy but simple.  I was inspired.

It naturally followed that I decided to explore pasta making classes during my recent trip to the Emilia Romagna area of Italy. I wanted to see if there was any difference from what Luca had taught us that night and the Nonnas’ (grandmothers’) technique or that of a 1 Star Michelin Chef, all of whom had agreed to teach my girlfriend and I how to make pasta.  Until this trip I hadn’t realized that you could take a class with such special teachers – they were both unbelievable experiences and completely different from each other.

My first class in Italy was with the Nonnas at Trattoria da Amerigo (a 1 Michelin Star restaurant) in the tiny town of Savigno.  It was a morning class and three women greeted us as we walked in – two sisters and a third who looked a bit younger.  One of the sisters “supervised” while the other two women worked with us.

All pasta dough starts with a “ring” of pasta flour on the work surface.  In Los Angeles my Italian friend added salt to the flour along with the whole eggs, here the Nonnas added only the eggs – no salt.  But, their eggs were very special.  They explained (in Italian through our interpreter) that they use only the eggs from chickens that are specially bred for the color and richness of the yolks.  The yolks were ORANGE – I wasn’t expecting that.  All pasta dough is then kneaded until smooth.  These ladies taught us to roll out the dough to the desired thickness.  I thought that was hard work until they showed us how to shape tortellini – that took a great deal of coordination.  It was more difficult than I thought it would be!

But the lesson was indeed inspiring and I decided to buy some special pasta flour during our visit to Il Mulino del Dottore – a centuries-old stone mill in the area that still operates daily.  I figured I would go home and make my own pasta from real Italian pasta flour!

I knew that we had another pasta making lesson planned with Chef Massimo Spigaroli who received his Michelin star in 2011 – the Executive Chef at Antica Corte Pallavicina where we were staying one night. I was looking forward to seeing what he would do differently from both my Italian friend and the Nonnas in Savigno.

Chef Massimo not only added salt to the flour like my Italian friend but also a drizzle of olive oil which neither of the other two did.  Now I was really confused as to which way was the correct way. But I learned that everyone has their own style and it just depends on how you were taught and how you like your pasta to taste.  Hum, no right way!!

Chef Massimo also used an electric pasta machine to “roll” out his pasta after he had kneaded it.  I imagine this is because he’s used to making pasta for the entire restaurant so volume is important.  What I also learned is that one batch of pasta dough can serve as many purposes as you want – it just depends on how you cut it, shape it, or if you fill it.  The best part, of course, was that we got to eat what we had made for lunch.  Delicious!  I decided to buy some of the pasta flour that they have there as well.

Now I have two different pasta flours, both purchased on my trip. I’m going to plan a night of pasta making with friends and see if we can tell any difference in texture or taste between the two.  I can’t wait.

 

 

Travel Planning is Everything Until It’s Not

da Amerigo 1934 - Akasha, Alberto, Helena, and Fran

Different people plan their trips differently.  Some love to just “wing it” and decide what they will do and where they will sleep once they get to a destination. Sometimes they don’t even plan a destination past their original stopping place.  I am definitely not one of those people.

I cannot go away without making sure all of my “ducks are in a row.”  I have to have my flights and any other transportation I might need completely planned and ticketed long before I ever leave home which includes any travel between cities either by train, car, or any other method.  I have to know exactly where I am sleeping each night and what that hotel/B&B/resort looks like and which category of room I have reserved and confirmed.  I do a little research about where I am going so that I don’t miss any “must see” places or restaurants I have to try.  I’m one of those.  And, because I am one of those, I was always what I would call the travel agent in my family; maybe it was a little bit of a control issue – I don’t know.

Savigno Italy Map

Well, this last trip I was able to leave the planning to my girlfriend – Akasha Richmond – who is immensely more meticulous in her research and planning than even I.  We were perfectly matched.  I made sure that we bought all of our tickets and confirmed all of our lodgings. Akasha did enormous research about what was in the area that we were traveling to – in this case Emilia Romagna, Italy – and where we should visit and eat so that we fit in as much as possible in the time we had.

We had one day in Savigno, a small town in the Province of Bologna southwest of the city of Bologna.  Akasha wanted to eat at Trattoria da Amerigo (a one Michelin star restaurant) in Savigno and was researching what else was in the area for us to see.  She found Helena Kyriakides (a Sommelier FISAR and a qualified Balsamic Vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano taster), whose company Yummy Italy, had an amazing reputation for arranging personal visits to various artisanal producers in the area. And we even had time to meet the owner, Alberto Bettini, who was an incredible host.

Helena took us to a small Parmigiano Reggiano maker that makes their cheese by hand and produces only 14 wheels per day.  After taking us on a tour of their facility, watching the process (passed down from generation to generation), getting to taste warm ricotta that was made from the cheese production that we watched that morning, we moved on to a winemaker.  She had organized for us to eat lunch with the winemaker in his home, taste his award-winning wines and enjoy his wife’s cooking.  The winemaker kept complaining that we weren’t drinking enough!!

When he found out that Akasha preferred goat cheese, he decided that we should visit one of his friends who has an organic goat farm and makes goat cheese.  He piled us all into his jeep, and we took off.  We were really glad we were in his Jeep because the goat farm was up a narrow gravel road and it was raining.  Akasha got to see the goats and taste some wonderful goat cheese – completely unplanned!

The last stop of our day with Helena was to Il Mulino del Dottore (part of the slow food movement in Italy), The Mill of the Doctor, a 17th-century building with a very old flour mill made of four millstones and run by water from the Venola stream nearby.  From the flour that they mill they produce all the products that are sold in their tiny shop as well as at various organic markets in the area– breads, cookies, dried pastas and of course flour.  They were some of the best cookies we had ever tasted!  I bought some pasta flour to use at home, dried pasta and some honey.

Our day with Helena from Yummy Italy made one thing perfectly clear – even when you think you’ve planned for everything you have to be open to the possibility of a slight detour that can take you to a place you never knew existed.  In our case to the wonderful goat farm.  Helena was perfect and our day with her couldn’t have been any better.

By the way, our dinner that night at Trattoria da Amerigo was everything we hoped for and more, and we got a pasta cooking class with the Nonnas (grandmothers) the next morning; courtesy of my friend’s expert planning!

In the photo above (from left to right), you see my girlfriend Akasha Richmond, Alberto Bettini, Helena Kyriakides, and me.

3 Truly Fantastic Italian “Relationship Recipes” from La Festa della Donna

A “Relationship Recipe” is a recipe I’ve developed over my whole life, but especially over the last 20 years as a restaurateur, to create, encourage and strengthen our connections to those around us – Friends, colleagues, family and loved ones, using food shared and time spent around the table. The sharing of food is a very personal and intimate experience. Cooking and eating use almost all of our senses – Sight, smell, touch and taste. When we cook together and eat together, we know that we are part of a community (a family, a group of friends, a couple) and the sharing of that experience reinforces our knowledge that we are important to others and that we love and are loved in return. It feeds our soul in a manner that cannot be done any other way.

For my recent event celebrating La Festa della Donna, one of my cooking specialists, Luca de Matteis, and I worked together to select a few of his recipes that were simple enough for a non-cook to prepare, had opportunities for others to help in the cooking of the dish (being a part of the experience of creating the meal) and were universal in their appeal. Luca and I both wanted to impress on everyone that food does not need to be complicated to be delicious. He and I agree that the simpler and easier something is to prepare the more inclined a person will be to actually cook it and share that experience with others.

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Recipes provided by Luca de Matteis.

Pasta alla Puttanesca (Olive and Capers)

Ingredients:

•Spaghetti: 400gr or about 1lb
•Black Pitted Olives (kalamata olives are ok):150gr or about 6oz
•San Marzano Red Tomato sauce: 400gr or about 1lb
•Capers: 2-3 teaspoon
•Italian Parsley (chopped): 2 tablespoons
•Extra Virgin Olive oil: 5 tablespoons
•Salt as needed
•Pepper if preferred
•Garlic: 1 clove
•Anchovies: 3-4 filet

Instructions:

1. In a large sauce pan, saute the garlic until a bit brown (do not burn).
2. Add the anchovies and cook until those melt and add pepper if desired.
3. Add capers, olives, and parsley in this order.
4. Leave each ingredient to sizzle for a few minutes.
5. Add the San Marzano red tomato sauce and let it cook for about 15-20 minutes.
6. In the mean time, boil water in a mid size pot, add the spaghetti and cook as indicated on the package (it shows the number of minutes).
7. Drain pasta and mix it in the sauce pan with the previously prepared olive, capers and tomato sauce.
8. Garnish each plate with a sprinkle of the chopped parsley and fresh black pepper.

Eat while it’s hot!

Serves 4-5 guests

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Tagliatelle or Linguine with Panna, Prosciutto, Funghi e Piselli

Ingredients:

•Linguine or Tagliatelle (egg pasta preferred): 300gr or about 2/3 lb
•Creme Fraiche: 8oz (panna in italian, if not available replace with heavy cream)
•Prosciutto cotto (ham): 300gr or about 2/3 lb (cut in small cubes)
•Dried Porcini Mushrooms: 40gr or about 1.5 oz ( before cooking, re-hydrate the mushrooms in warm water for 30 min)
•Green Peas: 150 gr or about 6oz (great if frozen)
•Onion: 1 chopped in small pieces
•Butter: 1 tablespoon
•Extra virgin Olive oil: 2 tablespoons
•Parmesan cheese: 1 teaspoon per person or plate
•Chive: 1 teaspoon per person or plate finely chopped

Instructions:

1. In a large sauce pan, melt butter and add olive oil.
2. Add the chopped onion and cook until lightly brown.
3. Drain the revived mushrooms (funghi in Italian) and add to the sauce pan along with prosciutto cotto (ham) and frozen green peas (piselli in italian) straight for the bag.
4. Let it sizzle for 1 or 2 minutes and then add the creme fraiche or heavy cream (panna in italian).
5. Let it cook on low heat for about 10 minutes.
6. In a mid size pot, boil water and add the tagliatelle (or linguine). If egg pasta is used once it raises to the surface remove from the pot with tongues and add straight to the sauce pan, mix it on a low heat. Otherwise, drain pasta and add to sauce pan.
7. Garnish the plate with Parmesan cheese and chopped chive.

Eat while it’s hot!

Expert tip for boiling water: When cooking pasta, make sure to bring water to a boil, then add salt before adding any pasta. Usually a couple of tablespoons of fine salt is sufficient. Based on the sauce you are preparing, modify quantity of salt. If the sauce is already salty do not add any salt to the boiling water. This is a great reason to always taste your sauce while cooking it!

 

Serves 4-5 guests

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Sanguinaccio (Chocolate Dessert Cream)

Ingredients:

•Cocoa power (100% cocoa, good quality e.g. Valrhona): 100gr or about 3.5 oz
•All purpose flour: 50 gr or about 1.75 oz
•Cane Sugar: 200 gr or 7 oz
•Whole milk: 400 ml or 14 fl. oz.
•Dark chocolate pieces: 50gr or about 1.75oz
•Cinnamon powder: a couple of pinches
•Vanilla extract: 2 teaspoons
•Orange peel of one orange

Instructions:

1. In a mid size pot, mix cocoa powder, flour and sugar.
2. Bring to a uniform dry mix with no clumps. Add whole milk (room temp) and turn on the stove to medium heat.
3. Cook for about 20 minutes and use a wooden spoon to stir continuously, until the mix thickens.
4. When lifting the spoon up, the cream should fall like thick syrup (it will harden slightly when cold).
5. Add cinnamon and vanilla extract for about 1 minute and turn off the stove.
6. Turn off the burner add the dark chocolate pieces (it will melt immediately), keep stirring during this step.
7. Poor into espresso cups. Depending on the portion, you can fill up to 10 cups.
8. Sprinkle an orange peel on each cup and serve with lady fingers cookies or your favourite cookie.
9. No need to refrigerate. Great at room temperature.

Expert tip: If the mix appears to be too thick or not fluid enough, add a little bit of extra milk while still hot, stir throughout.
Serves 6-10 guests

More Travel Hacks — Then, On to Italy!

It’s actually happening – down to zero hour when I start my trip to Italy! I’m so excited that I can’t stand myself (I have no idea what that means I just always say it when I’m more than excited about something)! Heading to Emilia Romagna, between Florence and Venice, which many consider to be the heart of Northern Italian food for Lambrusco and Sangiovese, Prosciutto, Parmigiano-Reggiano, fresh pasta and more! I’ll be eating at a 3 Michelin Star restaurant in Modena, Osteria Francescana, going to many early morning markets to see what’s in season, taking cooking classes with the Nonnas (grandmothers) to learn how to make their special pasta and so much more. It will be a whirlwind trip, and I absolutely cannot wait to get on that plane! I’ll be stopping in New York for one day first for a “food crawl” in Brooklyn.

Now for the stuff that has to be remembered — or as I like to call them my travel “hacks” — or the trip can be difficult.

I’m always double and triple checking that my passport is current at least a month before my trip. That way I don’t get caught like I did last February when I couldn’t get on my flight to Paris because my passport only had 3 months left before it expired. Almost all countries now require that you have a minimum of 90 days (or more for some countries) from the date of the end of your trip left on your documents. Don’t get caught short like I did- it can be a disaster! That’s a story for another day but I did make it to Paris and only a couple of hours after my friends did!!

As I think of something, I don’t want to forget I pull it out and start making piles — like the chargers. Once those piles are complete, then I put them in bags. I mentioned bagging almost everything to help with organization, but I didn’t mention shoes. Their soles can be quite dirty, and you don’t want that on your clothes. If you didn’t save the dust bags that came with them when you bought them — just use disposable shower caps over the soles, and you’re good to go. If everything is in a “baggy” then if a bottle leaks the liquid will stay in the bag and won’t get all over your new sweater. Make sure that if the length of your trip means that 3oz of shampoo will not be enough then pack a full-size bottle in your checked bag too- just double plastic bag it- that way you’ll have what you need, and you won’t make a mess on your clothes!

I always keep a cosmetics bag packed with essentials — toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. Then all I have to do is add to it when I pack for each trip. That way I know I won’t forget the obvious stuff- it’s the easiest to forget. Also, the morning of the trip as I’m washing up and putting on my “face” I put those daily items in that cosmetics bag, and I know I’m covered.

No matter how crammed your bag is — you’d be surprised what you can fit inside shoes and into corners — belts, socks, small stuff you won’t need during your flight.

Alright… almost finished. I’m always happy when everything I wanted to pack actually FITS into the suitcases I want to bring! One last thing — I invite everyone to watch my trip through social media — Twitter and Instagram: @FranBerger and on Facebook, just search my name!

Arrivederci!!!!

Getting Organized with Travel Hacks

I love to travel. The joke in my family has always been that I will have my bags packed before you can finish saying to me “Why don’t we go to … ?” I have two requirements — it must include an overnight stay and where ever it is they HAVE to cook amazing food, and now it’s happening again!

I am packed for my trip to Emilia-Romagna, a region famous for its food, wine, and ceramics. I’m excited to taste wonderful cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano in particular), balsamic vinegar, and pastas — not to mention meats and salumi! It just doesn’t get better than this.

I always run through my go-to travel hacks — tips that I’ve used for years — that way I don’t forget very many things. I always carry the important stuff in my carry-on bag. If my luggage is lost, I’m good for a couple of days. This includes all meds and vitamins, makeup, underwear (my mother always insisted I carry this on), itinerary (I use Trip-It) and my tickets, chargers, iPad, Kindle, laptop. You know, the essentials.

I hate when I can’t see my bag coming down the carousel in the airport, so I’ve done a couple of things to make it very visible. Most luggage these days is black — I bought brown. I also bought heavy duty plastic covers for the bags that I check. I never see that on anyone else’s bag. If you have black luggage don’t despair — just put a bright luggage tag on it, or tie a bright ribbon to the handle. Some people put a colorful elastic strap around theirs. Anything that will help with visibility is a good thing.

A really good trick I use while I’m doing the dreaded work of actually packing is that I put everything (well foldable things and small items and shoes) into bags. This’ll help with finding things in my suitcase as well as not losing stuff in the black hole that is a crammed suitcase. I save all the dust bags that come with my new shoes and purses and use these to put all kinds of things into. If you don’t have them, you can just use Ziploc bags of all sizes. I keep “like” things together — i.e., all my chargers and plugs are in one bag.

I take vitamins daily. There is no way I want to drag a bunch of bottles with me when all I really need is ten days worth of pills – the bottles take up a LOT of space that could be used for stuff I buy during the trip! I found mini Ziploc bags (but my friends use sandwich bags) and put a daily supply in each little bag and then put all the little bags into one larger Ziploc. That way I don’t lose any of them, and I don’t forget either.

Remember — make it easy to find things and make it easy to use them. Every little timesaver is a big help!