Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bed Toppers ... Slurge Or Save?

Years ago I bought a feather bed topper from Land's End. Since I prefer down-feather pillows to foam, it would be logical to assume I loved it, but it wasn't as comfortable as I hoped. One issue ... it forever slid out of place. 

Finally after using it for a while, it needed to be machine washed and dried, and some idiot put it away in a clear plastic bag without realizing it was still damp. (Ok, the idiot was me, and I learned my lesson. Even after down feels dry to the touch, wait several more days before enclosing it!) The topper got mold and had to be trashed.

For several years now, I've been without a topper. I have a firm mattress, and recently I decided to try sleeping on my stomach less ... and more on my back and sides. After a night on my stomach, I sometimes wake up with railroad-track-like-marks on my face, so perhaps sleeping in other positions is a better habit. Having a bed topper is ideal for back sleepers. 

Deciding against another feather topper, I bought the Comfort 2-Inch Orthopedic 5-Zone Form Mattress Topper (about $20 bucks on sale at Walmart. I selected two of the 2-inch thick size and stack them -- one under a cotton therapeutic mattress pad and the 2nd one directly under the fitted sheet. A bit of an experiment, but it works! The toppers are plush and comfortable: supportive with combined 4-inches of cushion.

The 5-zone contoured design feels nice! The foam is enhanced with plant-based materials, that are reported to be eco-friendly; and treated to stay cool and odor-free, i.e. selling points for me. (Probably an egg-crate design is equally pressure-relieving comfortable.) 

Surprisingly, I find the $20 toppers more comfortable than the $100+ feather topper was. You can also replace the inexpensive foam toppers often without feeling the pain!

This is one time when cheap-and-good-enough is better than expensive. Sometimes you don't need to buy top of the line.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

It's Valentine's Day

Hearts by Handdofbelapeck
On Valentine's Day, we feature the color red. It is an intense hue that symbolizes passion. So get in the spirit by wearing something bright red today.

Celebrate with a heart pastry and red ribbons.

Treat yourself to a piece of fine dark chocolate ... or two, or three, or more!
Dress yourself with a bit of glitter, and enjoy a delicious dinner with someone special. Love, kisses and roses to all my readers.🌹🌹🌹

Happy Valentine's Day!

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Queen Victoia & Prince Albert: Books & Series

Monday, February 6, 2017

Queen Victoria & Prince Albert: Books & Series

Painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter - 1846
I enjoy history and will read nearly anyone's biography. 

On a trip to Barnes and Noble I tried to buy Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey. I found the book on a shelf, read about 10 pages, but desiring to read the best bio on the subject, I waited a beat before heading to the cash register; instead, I went home to google some book reviews. After reading favorable reviews (one by The New York Times), I returned  to the store 3 hours later to buy it.

Surprise, somebody else bought my book! What are the odds? A manuscript published in 1921 about a 19th century British monarch, who died in 1901! Are those flying off the shelves? I couldn't believe my eyes. So I returned home empty handed. 

Not to be defeated, I looked online to find it as a free audiobook -- the publication is in the public domain. Nice! You can listen to it here.
A photograph of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, age 23 (1842). He eventually became  Prince Consort. Victoria wanted to make him King Consort, but the British Parliament said no.
Interesting bio on several levels. Queen Victoria was 3/4 German, born in England; Albert was her first cousin. Marriage is challenging, including happy ones. Ambition and power are fascinating, even if people who desire and acquire it, are virtuous and well-intended. Emigrating from Saxe-Coburg, Germany to England came with issues. Moreover, I can tell you this from a lifetime of personal experience: Germans are complicated, if seldom dull. You must be strong, well-informed and laser-focused to stand up to them!
Queen Victoria, age 25 with her oldest child, Vicky (Victoria, the Princess Royal)  in 1844
How fortunate to find the above, age-twenty-something photos of Albert and Victoria. We get to see the handsome face that won Victoria's heart, and have a glimpse of them as a young couple.
1854 - Married 14 years
Here they are in their mid-30s. I am fond of Victoria's directness and candor in manner. She was bright, a passionate person, who loved deeply ... hard with her whole heart. She recognized her husband's intellect and supported him in his efforts to champion the Industrial Revolution, public housing, the arts, anti-slavery and eventually politics in his adoptive country. Contrary to belief, she had a great sense of humor and laughed often. What's more, she had to function in a man's world. In her day women couldn't vote (nor own property!), yet prime ministers reported to her.
about 1861
What I like about Albert was his desire to do good and live a life of purpose. He was high-minded and principled. No doubt, Albert was a man of the 19th century; but progressive for his time. He was somewhat of a Renaissance man, with multi-interests and talents. And naturally, I like that Albert was a hands-on, if demanding father, who was faithful to his wife and children. Unlike his own philandering father and brother, the Prince Consort famously did not flirt with the ladies, ever!

After marriage, Victoria lost a bit of her independence and perhaps herself. As Albert was a 19th century man, she was a 19th century woman, who deferred to her husband over their 21 years of marriage. They had nine children. But, the bottom line is: Queen Victoria adored Albert throughout her life; and despite the tensions and compromises of their marriage, they were in sync, and he made her happy. Overall, they seemed right for each other. It was a love match.
Victoria & Albert with their 9 children in about 1961

Sadly, Prince Albert died at just 42 years of age, and as we all know, Victoria mourned him for the next 40 years of her life. No matter who you are, life is bittersweet.

After Albert's untimely death (the true cause perhaps from overwork), she did go on to have a life as Queen, mother, grandmother of Europe's dynasties and Empress of India. She was a friend to Highlander John Brown and Abdul Karim (the Munshi) from India; and her determination of character endured.
Prince Albert died on December 14, 1861 and Queen Victoria on January 22, 1901.

I recommend watching Queen Victoria, the miniseries. Season one was faithful to history; and the charismatic cast is brilliant at fleshing out the historical figures. 

By the way, I adore their plush, royal bed (below), where they have their talks and come to love and understand each other. 

The miniseries starring Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes.

Next I'm reading: Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird and Uncrowned King: The Life of Prince Albert by Stanley Weintraub, while I wait for the television series to resume later this year. After these books I will probably have my literary fill of strong-willed Germans.😊

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Cute Dress Round-Up

Topshop Block Lace Dress
Let's go dress shopping again! Retailers are running their annual sales, which make it an ideal time to add to your wardrobe. Sequins and lace, polka-dots and florals, smooth vs textured, belted or loose, v-neck or crew ... the possiblities are endless. 

In lieu of one-of-a-kind, I'm featuring several dresses, which are classic enough to wear time and again, yet also have some eye-catching embellishments. Because nobody wants to wear plain and boring! Let's call it classic-plus-swank style. The following dresses are understated with a wow-factor.
Adrianna Papell Pokla-Dot Dress
Ellen Tracy Satin Fit & Flare Dress
Maggy London Burnout Velvet Dress
Maggy London Shadow Floral Jackquard Dress
Tadashi Shoji Illusion Yoke Lace Sheath Dress
Taylor Dresses Black & White Floral Dress
Eliza J Lace Dress
Taylor Dresses Applique Fit & Flare Dress
Chetta B Sparkle Lace Dress
Komarov Embellished A-Line Dress

So how did I do in my selection? What makes you feel pretty? Do you have a favorite length, color, or style of dress?

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Monday, January 30, 2017

Soothing Chamomile

Since I wrote about the benefits of peppermint last week, I will now feature chamomile (a/k/a camomile), another tea in my mother's arsenal of heath remedies. Not only was I given a cup to cure the flu, Mom sometimes used a chamomile tea wash to soothe skin conditions like a winter's rash.

Chamomile is an aromatic European herb of the daisy family. The white and yellow daisy-like flowers are dried and often infused into a tea. Two types of chamomile are used to promote health: German chamomile (Matricaria retutica) and Roman (or English) chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). German chamomile is the more popular and studied of the two.

Chamomile tea is used to calm maladies, such as an upset stomach, hay fever, migraines, inflammation, menstrual cramps, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, muscle spasms and insomnia.
Medical studies suggest, chamomile boosts immunities. It has properties to ward off colds, as well as, breast and thyroid cancers. Rubbed topically on minor scrapes and burns seems to speed up healing. 

Chamomile is also added to skin serum and moisturizers. Reportedly, its anti-inflammatory properties slow down the aging process and brightens the skin.

Like essential oils, the chamomile flower has antioxides and anti-fungal properties. As an essential oil, chamomile can be diluted with water to kill germs on household surfaces.

Chamomile has a subtle pleasent scent and a mild, slightly sweet taste when brewed as a tea. Worth its space in the pantry!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Boost of Peppermint

Photo: Shutterstock
Peppermint is a member of the Lamiaceae family. A hybrid mint, it's a cross between watermint and spearmint. It has been used in a myriad of ways for centuries.

My mom made me drink peppermint (also chamomile) tea whenever I stayed home from school with the flu. She said, "I bet you don't know I'm a doctor, do you? Listen to me!" When I felt sooo very baddd, she had the advantage, so I drank up.

As it turns out, peppermint tea does have proprieties that give it a few medical benefits: It seems to soothe an upset stomach, nausea, irritable bowel and bloating. Some studies (lead by Dr. Mark Moss, Robert Jones and Lucy Moss from Northumbria University in the U.K.) also suggest drinking peppermint tea boosts alertness and long term memory.*

Peppermint oil kills bacteria and fungus and can be mixed with a carrier oil (like grapeseed, almond, olive or avocado for skin); or diluted with water to kill germs on household surfaces.
Peppermint's high menthol, menthone and menthyl acetate chemical constituents are responsible for its cooling and anti-flammatory powers. Externally, peppermint oil has been used to relieve muscle and nerve pain. Apply it (diluted) to your temples and forehead to treat a tension headache.

Peppermint is also popular as a flavor in toothpaste, mouthwash and chewing gum. Peppermint oil is often an ingredient in shampoo, soap and skin products. It makes your scalp and skin tingle. A few drops in your shampoo can be used to treat dandruff. 

Not only is peppermint a refreshing tea, it is the oldest known flavor of candy: peppermints. Furthermore, it is a popular ice cream favor; can be added to hot chocolate and mixed drinks; and the fresh leaves can be tossed into green or fruit salads to kick up the flavor.

Peppermint is easy to grow indoors in pots, but like any mint, it will take over a garden, so even outdoors, you may want to pot it. Reportedly, insects are repelled by pots of peppermint. They don't like the scent.

Growing peppermint in a windowsill is very doable! You will have a room with pretty green leaves that smell fresh and clean to humans!
*(source) The Epoch Times, September 23-29, 2016

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Soulmates High Heeler

Carrie Underwood is wearing a pair.
Soulmates are designed to save an expensive pair of high heels from ruin. How? By fitting snugly onto the heels to prevent them from being destroyed on concrete, cobblestone and subway grates, as well as, stop you from sinking into grass at outdoor events, such as a wedding. 

Nearly invisible when attached, Soulmates are available in 4 colors: clear, black, gold and silver. There are also 3 sizes: classic, narrow and wide to fit different heel widths. Eventually, the protectors stretch out, but for a fair amount of time, they are removable, washable and reusable. Cost: $10 a pair.

Sellers on ebay offer knowoffs for a dollar. Is it worth a $1 risk to pocket $9 on a copy-cat tool? Be sure to read the reviews before taking a chance. 

Whether you pay a buck or a Hamilton, it's a practical way of keeping your expensive heels looking new.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Smallflower Apothecary ... A Web Shop Find

Ahhhhh, a well stocked drugstore. There are a myriad of practical things laying in its aisles, ranging from medicine, makeup, snacks, cleaners, office supplies and housewares, etc.

Am I the only person who thinks perusing inside a drugstore is a must-stop-and-do in a foreign country? Nowadays I don't have to wait for a vacation. There is an online international apothecary that offers 14,000+ European and world products on the web. I'm in apothecary heaven! opened in 1875 in Chicago, Illinois as Mertz Apothecary. Back-in-the-day, the shop's clientele consisted mainly of European immigrants who lived in the neighborhood. Therefore in addition to modern (allopathic) medicine, the drugstore also offered the herbal medicines and formulas, which were already familiar to its international customers. In the old days, a pharmacist advised and hand mixed remedies for each customer's specific ailments. Today customers can order health and personal care items from around the world, including Great Britain, Germany, Asia, South America, Africa, or Australia.

When looking for an item, you can shop by brand, country or scent. Featured in the blog are two German products my Mamma favors: 

4711 Original Eau de Cologne is a unisex scent containing notes of citrus, basil, lily, Bulgarian rose and jasmine. It smells refreshing and clean, as opposed to, overpowering and perfumey. Although not created for headache relief, my Oma (grandma) treated her headaches by spraying the cologne on a moist towelette and rubbing it on her temples.

Penaten Cream - Mom swears by Panaten Cream to treat winter's dry, broken skin and rashes. It contains zinc oxide, Panthenol, Hamamelis Virginiana extract and Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil among its healing ingredients. Mom calls it cream with medicine.

With over 140 years of experience and a focus on internal and external health, as well as, affordable prices, Smallflower Apothecary is a terrific find! Cost-wise, it's international inventory is very competitive with the corner drugstore. 

Thankfully, now we don't have to fly oversees to pick up a few personal care items!

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Are You Prepared For An Emergency?

Emergency Solar Hand Crank Radio, Weather Radio, LED Flashlight and Smart Phone Charger
I walk a fine line between being prepared versus being paranoid in dealing with possible emergencies. Ever since the Northeast blackout of 2003, I keep a pitcher of water in my refrigerator, a small flashlight and a transistor radio in a drawer. Now I'm diligent about having a supply of tealight candles and batteries also. Luckily, I had all of these items to use during the blackout. (The radio was a Christmas gift ... when received I thought, will I ever use this? The tealights were leftover from a party. It's not that I prepared for a blackout, I was just lucky.) 

My Mom, who as a child lived through a war and its aftermath, once scolded me by saying that she could survive the chaos of war and hard times, but I would not!" Unfortunately, at the time I was a teenager, who shot back, "Oh, you can survive a war, but can you live in peace?"

Perhaps I was disrespectful (yes ... yes I was!), but when you think about it, we are both right. Primarily, we should enjoy life and not live every day expecting the worst; and yet, we are wise to prepare for a few events that inevitably go wrong: a car breaking down, a heavy snowfall, or a power outage.

At another time my Dad scolded me for wearing flimsy shoes when driving a car in winter. He said, "If your car breaks down, you'll freeze to death because you couldn't walk in the snow to get help." He continued,"At least, keep a pair of boots and a blanket in your car." In addition to noticing how adults liked to jump on my case (for no reason, I sensed) the lessons stuck.

Lately I'm tempted to buy the all-in-one Emergency Solar Hand Crank Radio, Weather Radio, LED Flashlight, and Smart Phone Charger manufactured by Brolar. For under $30, it's compact and offers enough power and survival tools to make it a smart buy. I'm not convinced yet, I need one in New York City. I do think it's one of the best available for the price, and is perfect to keep in a car.

Photo: FlickerBox
In Manhattan, we lost power for 2 long days during the August, 2003 blackout. The elevators were out. Without electricity, water pumped up to the floors in a tall building stops running after an hour. We soon couldn't flush our toilets. Neighborhood businesses closed, including banks. 

Our area was one of the last grids to have power restored. I showered at a friend's apartment who had electricity restored before me, and I attended a Broadway show to escape the heat, as well as, to use the bathroom! No tall glasses of water, or ice tea for me during that time.

I learned two important lessons during the emergency. Always have money at home in case the banks can't open; and if there's a power outage in a high-rise, always fill up your bathtub and sinks with tap water. You can then transfer water to your toilet to flush it. Well, live and learn!

Here's a comprehensive list of supplies to have for emergencies, according to the CDC. You decide how much of an alarmist to be.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

4 Affordable Beauty Products To Try Now

A new year to discover new beauty products for less. Here are 4 cosmetics as good as their designer counterparts to try. You and your wallet will love each and every one!💄

1) Milani Rose Powder Blush (see above photo) A blush with rich pigments for under $10. It flatters your complexion with radiant, soft, natural color and a pearl finish. A choice of shades to complement pink and olive skin tones.🌹
2) Osmosis Water Color High Intensity Eyeshadow is sheer loose powder designed for layering. You decide how soft or intense your smoky eyes will be. This eyeshadow has pigments meant to last. 
3. Rimmel London WonderLash Volume Color Mascara delivers semi-permanent color to your lashes. Even on days you don't wear makeup, your lashes will appear darker and defined. Customers love the gradated brush shape (like a Christmas tree) for a perfect root-to-tip application.
4) Mac's Ruby Woos is a red lipstick that complements every skin tone, hair color and eye color. Due to the shade's universality, Ruby Woos has a big cult following. Look smashing for those nights out on the town! In stores, it sells for $17. If you wish to spend even less, two doppelgängers are Sonia Kashuk - in Satin Luxe Lip Color 16 (sells at Target) and Wet N Wild MagaLast Lip Color in Stoplight Red (sells at Walmart).💋

Is it time to update the contents in your makeup bag? Priced between $10 - $17 dollars, these 4 beauty items are cheap, chic and boutique-caliber!

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cinnamon Raisin Nut Swirl Bread

Usually when I make homemade bread I'm forced to make 2 loaves at once, which is more bread then I care to eat. Yes, I know I could freeze one, but often I'd rather make one fresh loaf, enjoy eating it, then go on to some other food. So I've got this tasty bread recipe down to a single loaf, and I add all the things I like: cinnamon, raisins and nuts. The cinnamon swirl filling makes it extra cinnamon delish! (You can skip the cinnamon swirl filling if you wish, but really why would you?!) Also, I prefer a sweet bread that is sweet enough without being too sugary, therefore I don't put much sugar in the dough itself; rather I add a swirl of cinnamon brown sugar. Finally, the raisins add moisture, so the loaf will stay fresh longer.

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Swirl Bread


3 cups all purpose flour (I also use all whole wheat flour. The loaf is whole grain, not as light as using white flour, but still fluffy.)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fast acting dried yeast
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins (Raisin lovers can go up to 1 cup.)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans work.)
1 3/4 cup milk (or buttermilk; or 1 3/4 water with 8 tablespoons dry powder milk)
2 eggs

About 1 cup of extra flour for folding over the dough on a cutting board. (You end up using 4 cups of flour to make 1 loaf.)


1) In a mixing bowl whisk, or use the handle of a wooden spoon to stir the dry ingredients together.

2) Mix in the wet ingredients. Add the ingredients in the above recipe in order if you wish. Incorporate well with the whisk, or handle of the wooden spoon. Form into a ball. I moisten the top with a little water.

3) Cover the dough in the bowl with a towel, or plastic wrap, and let it rise overnight in a warm place. I place the dough inside of my oven. The pilot light keeps it warm.

4) The next morning after the dough has doubled, slide it out of the bowl onto a floured cutting board. No need to knead much (the overnight rising kneads the dough). Simply fold it over a few times. {I pour a teaspoon of olive oil on my hands so the dough won't stick as I work it. I also think olive oil (or butter!) locks in the moisture of the bread after it is baked.} Flatten the dough out to prepare to add the swirl filling --

Cinnamon Brown Sugar Filling

Ingredients and directions: 

Combine 1/3 cup brown sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon.
(Substitute white sugar if you wish. The nutrition and calories are the same as brown sugar.)

5) With the dough flatten out, sprinkle and spread the cinnamon sugar evenly on top, then grabbing an edge, roll the dough up into a loaf, and pop it into a greased loaf pan. Cover again with a towel.
6) Let it proof for a 2nd time in a warm place for about 1 hour.

7) Next bake in a 350 degree F oven for 30 - 40 minutes until it forms a golden crust and an inserted tester produces a crumb.

8) When the bread is done, remove it from the oven; wait 10 minutes; remove from the pan; let it cool a bit (if you can!) before slicing.

The bread is delicious on day one, as well as, toasted days later. To eat fresh bread, slice and store it in the freezer, not the refrigerator (which dries it out). Remove a slice at a time to pop into a toaster.

Baking bread from scratch is easy. Enjoy!

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