Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What's New At Uniqlo: Your Fall Wardrobe


As autumn returns, Uniqlo has us covered in "LifeWear" basics. You can't beat the retailer's innovation, style and value. Here are a few articles that caught my eye for our upcoming fall and winter seasons:

1) Merino-blend V-Neck Long-Sleeve Dress (top) - The dress has premium Merino wool with a touch of nylon stretch. Elegant, but easy every day wear. Available in several attractive neutral colors.
2) Women 3D Fine Merino Ribbed Long-Sleeve Dress - Designed seamless, as well as, to keep you cozy and ultra warm on frosty days. Comes in 4 colors. I love it in red. Click the dress link to see them.

3) Women Melange Wool Hooded Knitted Coat - Although the 100% wool knit is listed as a coat, it only provides the warmth of a sweater, which is all we need in early fall; and it has the look of a polished jacket. The pockets and a hood come in handy. Available in navy and brown too, but WOW, the wine is stylish!

4) Shoes and boots!👠👢
Now Uniqlo has a small collection of shoes. I have tried them on in the store, and they are comfortable. No frazzle-dazzle, just the classics: a pointed-toe pump with 2-inch block heels; rounded-toe, ankle boots with block heels; and pointed-toe flats. Unfortunately, the sizes only go up to 8, and of course, there are women who have a bigger foot. (No sizes 8.5 - 11 ... disappointing if one needs it.) Each style is ultra versatile to go with dresses, trousers and skirts. 

Budget-friendly prices for a quality and flattering wardrobe. And now it's your turn to browse at Uniqlo. What do you like?


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Velvet Is Posh Again
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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Emerald A Timeless Stone

The Bvlgari emerald suite, including this necklace given to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton Circa 1962-1967.
The legendary Egyptian Queen Cleopatra reportedly had a deep passion for emeralds, which she presented to foreign dignitaries engraved with her image as a symbol of power. Wouldn't you love to go back in time to get one? Gimme!

Since I wrote about the other precious stones, I must cover this one too.

Columbia is where the most famous emeralds are mined. It supplies about 70% of the world's emeralds. Other places of origin include: Zambia (the 2nd largest supplier), Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Madagascar, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, the USA and pretty much the rest of the world.
All photos of the Bvlgari emerald suite -Time magazine
 The most coveted emeralds are an intense, sometimes bluest green color. A pure green desirable hue is the perfect balance between blue and yellow. Emeralds that are more yellow than blue hold less value.

Like diamonds, rubies and sapphires, jewelers consider emeralds a precious stone. Like Aquamarines and Morganites, emeralds are a variety of the mineral beryl. Chromium (and sometimes vanadium) give the mineral its green color. Chemically, they're called beryllium aluminum cyclosillicate, but the name beryl will certainly do! The lovely green stones rate an 8 on Mohs Scale of Hardness, so it is strong enough to wear as jewelry. Of the 4 natural precious stones, emeralds are the rarest and most brittle.
Earrings from Bvlgari emerald suite.
One characteristic emeralds share with sapphires and rubies is, there are few "clean'' ones in nature. Nearly all have imperfections or "inclusions." These may include gas bubbles; "jardins" (which are lines and branch-like imperfections); or fractures. While inclusions often tell exprets the origin of the gem, naturally, the fewer, smaller and less noticeable the imprecations are to the naked eye the better. Greater clarity gives the emerald greater value (along with the other c's: carat, cut and color).
The ring from the Bvlgari emerald suite.
Emeralds are almost always oiled to enhance their color and hide inclusions. The oil isn't harmful or permanent, but allowed as a standard treatment that doesn't lessen the gem's value. Other treatments need to be disclosed to a buyer, such as using dye to improve the color, or filling in any cracks with resin or polymer to increase its clarity. The latter treatments do lessen an emerald's value, as the stones natural beauty has been artificially improved. Also emeralds are a brittle stone, so fillings potentially impact the longevity of the stone. At any rate, they need to be cleaned carefully and should be priced accordingly. 
Photo: Macy's - Costs far less, and yet still a pretty little thing.
You never want to pay top dollar for inferior stones, but perhaps don't mind spending alot less for treated (and disclosed) emeralds in a pretty setting. Or a lighter hue that is still appealing at a lower cost. A fair trade off.

Emeralds are beautiful, but I don't own any. Do you?


You may also enjoy:
In My Jewelry Box
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For The Love Of Sapphires
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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Princess Louise, Duchess Of Argyll

As mentioned, I'm reading the biographies of Queen Victoria's children. I highly recommend, "Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's Unconventional Daughter" by Jehanne Wake over other books about her. It is by far the best researched, delving into private letters and other primary sources to recall her life.
Prince Leopold and Princess Louise on the left. The Duchess of Kent?, Prince Arthur and Princess Alice. Queen Victoria under her umbrella, Prince Albert holding Princess Beatrice's hand and Princess Helena on the right of her father.
The better known bio by Lucinda Hawksley is entertaining, yet hugely based on gossip, falling short because it presents unsubstantiated hunches and rumors as truth. In biographies, all conclusions must be backed up with credible sources and solid evidence. 
Princesses Helena and Louise
Unfortunately after 100 years, the rumors stick to a historical figure as if they were true facts, which is certainly the case here. In my review, I feel compelled to confront a few of the rumors and misconceptions.

Indeed in a myriad of ways, Princess Louise was an unconventional and modern royal. Born on March, 18, 1848, the year of revolutions in Europe, she was Queen Victoria's 6th child and 4th daughter. When the little princess was only a few weeks old, the royal family was advised to flee London, which they did for the safety of Osborne due to the riots. 
The Queen even remarked that the volatility of the times would surely leave an imprint on the infant's character.


Princess Louise Caroline Alberta was intelligent, inquisitive and artistically gifted. Like her siblings, she received a strict academic education, becoming fluent in several languages, music, art and theater, as well as, acquiring practical skills like cooking, baking sewing and gardening. 


However, her childhood was marred by the early death of her father, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg-Gotha and her mother's prolonged period of mourning. It was a traumatic period that engulfed the entire family and country for more years then it should have.


Princess Louise was the first royal offspring to enroll in a public school, the National Art Training School, at the same time as she was required to fill the role as her mother's private secretary (1866-1871). Louise was successful at both endeavors due to dedication and many hours of hard work.


The Princess was a talented sketcher, painter and sculptress and accepted commissions for her art in an era when women were only supposed to have hobbies inside the home. Her sculpture of Queen Victoria at the age of her coronation sits outside of Kensington Palace today.


Queen Victoria, who sometimes considered her daughter argumentative, had to admit the statue was a great likeness and Louise was an excellent private secretary, writing to daughter Vicky: "She is (and who would have some years ago have thought it?) a clever dear girl with a fine character, unselfish and affectionate."


Unlike the Queen, Princess Louise (like her elder sister, Vicky, i.e. Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia) supported women's rights. She secretly met with "radical" Elizabeth Garrett, the first woman medical doctor in Britain.
Photo: Royal Digest Quarterly
Traveling and at breakfast with a lady-in-wating, Queen Victoria, Leopold, Louise - standing and Beatrice
Over a lifetime, Princess Louise supported liberal and forward-thinking social causes, spearheading the education of women, lending her name to get programs and institutions up and running. Likewise the Princess initiated public works and opened wings of hospitals. Not content with merely showing up at the end, she contributed her ideas and was involved in all the phases of planning and implementation right up to the openings.
Many at court, as well as, the public thought Princess Louise was the Queen's most attractive daughter. She was the tallest and slender and as an early proponent of exercise, remained shapely and youthful throughout her life. She bicycled and walked habitually.

Princess Louise was also unconventional in choosing a spouse -- an aristocrat, John Campbell, the Marquis of Lorne, heir to the Duke of Argyll and a Liberal Member of Parliament over a foreign prince. Since he was active in politics and wasn't royal, it was controversial. In 1871, she became the 1st daughter of a Sovereign to marry a commoner since the 16th century. Queen Victoria favored the match as a way of keeping her daughter in Great Britain, and too, of introducing new blood into the family. Also, the Queen always let her children marry for love. 

Which brings us to Louise and Lorne's relationship. There's little truth to what is often written, namely: the couple was unhappy and childless because Lorne was homosexual. The marriage began happy and lasted for over 40 years. During these years, Lorne was devoted, supportive and protective of his wife, and they were very much together up until the early 1880s. He never stopped thinking she was beautiful; nor weaned in thinking of and mentioning her in conversations and letters to his family, etc.


And although Louise could be temperamental, she too was loving, thoughtful, respectful and devoted. Apparently the couple tried to have children as Louise went to Germany over the years for cures in the effort. Although she lived to be 91 years old, the Princess suffered from ill health throughout her life (including severe headaches, neuralgia, vomiting and insomnia, especially after a serious sledging accident (on February 14, 1880) in Canada that also gave her a concussion and tore her ear lope in two). Jehanne Wake's book makes a good case that probably the real reason the couple remained childless was due to illness or infertility (possibly complications from meningitis which Louise contracted at the age of 16). Moreover in Victorian England, no one thought to consider Lorne's fertility. Both spouses hoped to have children and no doubt the disappointment put a strain on their marriage. Louise became depressed.

Furthermore, the evidence that the Princess' husband was gay is very weak based mainly on the couple's close association with Lorne's homosexual uncle and friend, Lord Ronnie Gover (his mother's brother), who although innocent, was drawn into a scandal by a gay con artist.
Princess Louise, Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria, John Campbell (Lorne), and Princess Beatrice

Louise and Lorne grew apart starting in 1884 after returning from 5 years living in Canada, where Loren served as a capable and successful Governor General (giving the couple the chance to see Canada and the USA.) The death of Louise's favorite brother, Prince Leopold, didn't help matters as it devastated her. From childhood, she had looked after Leopold.

As the author explains, "The dynamics of a marriage can change and in the Lornes' case the balance of power swung away from him to her. The long spells apart and their clashes of opinion had changed Princess Louise's perception of Lorne; she now saw the stubborn side of his character and began to be irritated by him. Although, whenever this happened, she would be sorry and try to be kind to make up for the feeling; it took its toll upon her nerves. She was very much like her sister, Princess Alice, in temperament. In Princess Alice's words, they had 'things to fight against, and to put up with, unknown to those of quiet equable dispositions, who are free from violent emotions, and have consequently no feelings of nerves -- still less of irritable nerves.' "

According to the book, Princess Louise cared for Lorne deeply, but needed to take breaks from him in mid-marriage. Queen Victoria was exceedingly understanding of her daughter's frail emotions, ''while feeling much for Lorne." Lorne, too, was patient and understanding of his wife.

As the author notes, "At the height of Princess Louise's unhappiness," husband and wife ''kept in close contact and wrote daily." Divorce was never considered as neither party desired it.

They stayed together and became close again in later years. When Lorne's father died in 1900 making him the 9th Duke of Argyll, Louise accompanied him to Scotland. Together the couple also lived in Kent House on the Isle of Wight and at Kensington Palace in London. Unfortunately, as Lorne aged, he developed dementia and lost the easygoingness of youth, but Louise was very devoted to nursing him until his dealth from bronchitis that developed into double pneumonia in 1914. Again, Princess Louise was desvastated. She felt dreadfully lonely without the Duke!

And despite the rumors, her biographer thinks it unlikely that Princess Louise ever had sexual relations with anyone other than her husband. No solid evidence suggests otherwise. The author argues Princess Louise could be chatty, friendly and flirty, and like Queen Victoria, she loved beauty in everything, especially in the form of a good looking man. But the the book states, it would have been too risky and highly unlikely that she ever crossed the line as she never forgot Her Royal Highness status, nor her sense of duty. At any rate, says the author, "It was the maternal, domesticated hausfrau which predominated in her character." In other words, yes, she flirted, but expressed it as glee and by mothering a man. And, I agree with the biographer!

In later years Princess Louise continued some public appearances, often visiting hospitals unscheduled. She lived in Scotland and Kensington Palace next to her sister, Princess Beatrice's apartment. Although the sisters had their differences, they were a close family. Louise spent summer vacations with Prince Arthur at his house on the French Riviera and sketched up until age 90. She died on December 3, 1939 and because of the war was cremated with her ashes buried at Frogmore near Windsor. Had she died in Scotland, she would have been buried next to her husband.

In Canada, the province of Alberta, Mount Alberta and Lake Louise are all named after Prince Louise.

After you finish the Wake bio, here's another recommendation: Darling Loosy: Letters to Princess Louise 1856 - 1939 by Elizabeth Longford.


So far, I love all of Queen Victoria's children. How about you?



You may also enjoy:

Queen Victoria's Family Pictures
Princess Alice Of The United Kingdom
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Monday, September 10, 2018

Platinum Silicone Bags


As we are learning, plastic is an environmental disaster. Often it is not biodegradable and is filling up our landfills and oceans, plus killing our marine life. Moreover, chemicals in plastics can harm people. But now we have plastic alternatives for food storage and organizing our stuff. Meet a plastic baggie alternative with an unsexy name: Platinum Silicone Bags. But, it's not they're called, it's what they do that's so exciting!


Replacing plastic, they are very versatile: You can bake; boil; microwave; refrigerate and freeze food in them after cooking. Or you can reverse the order: Pull frozen food stored in them out of the freezer to pop into your microwave or boiling water. How convenient!


Better yet, you don't need to worry about the harmful chemicals in plastic because Platinum Silicone Bags are made of all natural materials -- mostly sand and oxygen. The manufactures claim they are "more like flexible glass than plastic," yet if dropped they won't shatter. As opposed to glass, Platinum Silicone Bags are light and functional. Also as a benefit to Mother Earth, you can wash these silicone bags with soap and water to reuse 1000s of times. Plus they are dishwater safe.


The bags come in an assortment of sizes from snack to sandwich to gallon.

Platinum Silicone Bags seal airtight keeping food fresher longer and thus, reduce food waste.


Although they're great for cooking and food storage, there's really no need to stop there! Use them to organize your things like electronics, toiletries, office supplies, or makeup, i.e. anytime you would habitually grab a plastic bag. In fact, they are stronger and more durable than baggies and zip-loc plastic bags that might only be used once. So by switching over to reusable Platinum Silicone Bags, you can spare the environment of more plastic waste.

This innovation saves money, food, natural resources and the planet. A terrific deal all around!


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What Can You Do For Earth Day?
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Thursday, September 6, 2018

When Half of A S'mores Cake Is Enough

Photo: Martha Stewart Weddings
If I'm not expecting company to help me polish off a whole cake, I do something wacky, I make half of a cake. How you might ask?

I cut the ingredients of a cake recipe in half, use a single cake pan, then after baking it, I slice the one round cake layer in half, stacking the two sections and voilà, I have 1/2 of a round, 2-layer cake. Recently I wanted to make a S'mores Cake ... but jeez I didn't relish eating the cake all week long. So here's my 1/2 cake recipe: 

S'more Cake - 1/2 (or one round layer)

(Of course whenever you have enough people to eat a whole cake, simply double the ingredients for 2 round layers. The recipe came to me via Facebook by Bigger Bolder Baking ... however I tweaked it.)

Ingredients for the Cake

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick butter)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
A little less than 1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 extra large eggs (What I had. Large is fine too.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1) Use a large mixing bowl, melt the butter in the microwave for 15-20 seconds (if like me) you don't remember to take it out of the refrigerator beforehand so that it is at room temperature.

2) Next add the dry ingredients: whole wheat flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, brown sugar and white sugar. Stir the dry ingredients into your melted butter.

3) At this point, grab an electric mixer: Add the buttermilk followed by the eggs, beat one egg at a time. Mix for one or two minutes until you see the dry and wet ingredients are incorporated. Don't over mix this cake batter, or your cake will be tough. 

4) Pour into a well greased baking pan. To keep life simple, I buy one huge bottle of extra virgin olive oil to use for all my cooking and baking oil needs, including greasing a pan. I'm not that specialized. My cakes come out clean and tasty! (Butter, or canola oil will do also.)

5) Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes, or until the center is done. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan(s).

6) Remember you will evenly slice it in half to stack as 1/2 of a cake but will have 2 layers.

Photo: FoodNetwork
Chocolate Ganache Filling

Ingredients

6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup of buttermilk (milk, or cream)

Directions:

1) In a microwave safe bowl melt the chocolate chips (takes about 30 seconds) and remove.
2) Whisk in the buttermilk (use some 1/4 cup and add) until smooth and the right consistency. 
3) Spread in the center.

I used chocolate ganache as the frosting for my entire cake half. It was rich, delicious and satisfying. But I should have continued with a meringue frosting. For guests, I will do the 3rd and final step:

Egg White Meringue Frosting for 1/2 cake

Ingredients:

1 extra large egg white (or large and save the egg yolk for a pudding, or bread coated dish. Waste not!)
1/4 cup of white sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1) With an electric mixer, beat the ingredients until the egg white(s) peak. It should be stiff and creamy.
2) Spread the frosting on the top and sides of the cake.
3) Take a blow touch (or use your broiler) to toast the frosting of the cake (like marshmallows). 
4) Use any remaining chocolate gauache on the very top of your cake. Let it drizzle down.

Wow, the cinnamon in the batter and gauache filling make this cake. With only half of a cake made, I had 4 huge servings, enough to share with a neighbor, plus extra for another day.

Extra Tip: Stay focused when making half a cake, or you will mess up the ingredients. You can prevent miscalculating by measuring out your ingredients before mixing them. Here I have cut the ingredients in half for you, so you can simply follow the above recipe. But on your own, be sure to stay in the moment. Wow, what a delicious cake this one is ... the whole wheat flour, the cinnamon, the ganache!


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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Rubies, The Scarlet Stones

Photo: moregems GIMME!!!
Let's look at the most fiery gem in the jewelry world: A red, red ruby. The other precious stones are diamonds, sapphires and emeralds. Of the 4 gems, diamonds are the most common in nature, with sapphires, rubies and emeralds being rarer in the order listed.

The name ruby literally means red in Latin (from the word "rubens"). Just like their sapphire brothers, ruby sisters consist of the mineral corundum, except rubies get their vibrant red color from trace amounts of the element chromium. (On the other hand, when titanium and iron are added to corundrum, the resulting blue gem is called a sapphire. Get it?) As corundums, both rubies and sapphires are one of the hardest stones, rating a 9 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness, after diamonds, a 10.

The finest rubies in the world from Burma, now known as  Myanmar rubies, were banned in the United States for 5 years. The ban was imposed to fight an oppressive military regime, plus human rights violations, including child labor in the mines. That ban was lifted in the fall of 2016. The reason why Myanmar (or Burmese) rubies are so prized is due to their desirable hue called "pigeon's blood" -- a vivid red with a hint of blue. 
Photo: Van Cleef and Arpels - - GIMME!!!
Large transparent rubies are rarer and more expensive than diamonds (costing twice as much per carat). Know that (just like sapphires) there are few imperfect rubies in the world, so inclusions in rubies are acceptable as long as they don't affect clarity. "Silk" inclusions are commonly seen in rubies -- they are intersecting needles of the mineral rutile.

As much as I love rubies, I'm not too tempted to buy them these days. Why you may ask? A fine Burmese ruby averages $3,000+ per carat (depending on color and inclusions). But more affordable rubies sourced from other parts of the world (including the USA, Australia and Africa) are often too tiny, cloudy or pink in my humble opinion. What's the point of paying for those? I want a big clean pigeon's blood ruby, don't you? (But not enough to pay the piper, and now I worry about abuses in the mines also. So check before buying.)
Photo: Investmentjewelry - GIMME!!!
In fact, most modern rubies have been treated to improve their color and strength. Treatments include heat, or lead glass filling (into fractures). While this improves the transparency of the stone, it also makes the gem look more expensive than it really is, therefore the information must be disclosed to a buyer and priced accordingly.

But. If you adore rubies feel free to buy a bauble in your budget to dress yourself up. At the end of the day, jewelry is a thing of beauty only and not an investment anyway. So if you love the scarlet stone, get one and wear it to your beating heart's content!


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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Laneige Water Sleeping Mask

At the end of summer and during the dry winter months, skin takes a beating from the sun, wind and cold. It needs some tender loving care. Beauty editors are raving about Laneige Water Sleeping Mask, comparing it to 2 expensive luxe cousins, La Prairie Skin Cavier Luxe Sleep Mask and Valmont Moisturizing with a Mask. Yet Laneige costs much less ... $25 vs $350.

Laniege Water Sleeping Mask is good for all skin types, from oily to dry and sensitive. A gel, it has patented  (what it calls) "Sleep-Tox™" ingredients such as antioxidant-rich Hunza Apricot and Evening Primrose, plus "Moisture Wrap™" technology -- which are 6 moisture rich minerals formulated to calm, hydrate and rejuvenate the skin overnight.

Apply it as a last step over your face serums before bed. 

Customers and beauty editors alike give this skin care gel top marks for its moisturizing and rejuvenating properties. Not only does it add moisture back to the skin, it softens lines because dry skin looks old. A hydrated face looks and feels its best, appearing supple and younger.



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Monday, August 27, 2018

American Eagle & Aerie

Recently Aerie opened down the street from Bloomingdale's (at 716 Lexington Avenue on the corner of East 57th Street) adjoining its parent company, American Eagle. Once inside, you can walk from one store to the other. 

Have you had the experience of your basics wearing out, seemingly overnight? Well it happens to me, and I love Aerie's style, quality and prices on clothing we tend to buy in multiples. You won't break the bank by picking up a few essentials such as: t-shirts, cute tops, leggings, jeans, undies, hoodies, sweatshirts and causal dresses. Inventory also includes leather jackets, belts, fashion jewelry, sweat pants and sports shoes.
Dare I address this next topic? Nowadays Aerie offers undies which are much better and cheaper than the Victoria's Secret brand. There are many styles from sporty to slinky in the collection. The leggings, undies and t-shirts are ultra soft and adorable. Gosh, so are the dresses! The fabric of the summer garments are mostly cotton, some with a touch of spandex and can be machine washed and dried. For sports, there are compression and sweat-repellent leggings. The fabric of all the clothing is substantial in thickness, not thin like many competitors.
We probably spend more hours in basics than dress clothes in our day-to-day lives. So the next time you need a few replacements, be sure to consider American Eagle and Aerie, as they combine fashion, value and friendly customer service. A retailer who provides the bang for the buck ... along with attractive sales and rewards.


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