Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year From Manhattan

Photo: from Times Square
I hear people say: the months of 2017 have passed in what feels like dog years. It has been a year of turmoil and divisiveness. Our Congress seems out of step with regular people. High profile men fell from grace, and we worry about our executive branch of government daily. The year has been exhausting for many Americans and the world.

Cloak at Grand Central Sation - right photo:; left photo: 
But at the stroke of midnight, we began a New Year. And, I am an optimist. The pendulum swings back and forth. I'm happy to be here. Aren't you? Let's celebrate 2018!
Nobody knows how to ring in a New Year like New York City. From neighborhood parties to the huge one in Times Square. Uptown, downtown  ... corks are popping in bars, restaurants and homes.
Photo: Kelly Hulme via TimeOut
In New York's harbor there are sometimes fireworks, but they are not announced. You just have to catch them. Watch the ball drop on TV if you wish ... while making trips into the kitchen for snacks and champaign. The couch is cozy and an easy commute to bed.😊 

It's the perfect time to join together and move forward. Happy New Year, friends!πŸŽ‰ 


Extra Photos: Ahh, sooo New York City. And yes, we have light snow.
Photo: By Belinda Luscombe of The Flatiron Building on West 23rd Street

The snow from my window ....

Uptdate on January 1, 2018: The temperature in Times Square on New Year's Eve was 9 degrees F. This morning, it fell to 8 degrees F. That's cold! Stop falling!!!

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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Greetings To Everyone

The 1st-9-photos taken by Margareta Kessler
Here are recent photos of the elegant Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. The Vanderbilt estate was built during the Gilded Age and is still privately owned by the Vanderbilt family. Luckily, it is open for public tours so we can see an earlier age of American history and great wealth. What beautiful, elaborate Christmas decorations! 

A look into the past informs us of how the world changes and yet manages to stay the same, doesn't it? Once again we turn to a low-born, humble child to remind us of what is truly important.
From the perennial carol: O Holy Night ...
"O holy night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night 
Of the dear Savior's birth''
''Long lay the world                
In sin and darkness pining
'Til he appeared 
And the soul felt its worth"
''A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks
A new and joyous mourning''
''Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angels' voices
Oh night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine, Ooo night divine."
The world is a magnificent, challenging, complicated, changing and static place. Always was, always will be! During Christmas, we recall that hope is eternal, and it matters that we keep striving. Never. Stop. Striving.
Thank you, Margareta, for your lovely photography!

Meanwhile from Manhattan, warm wishes for peace, love and harmony. A Merry Christmas ... and goodwill to all! As members of the human family, be kind to one another.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

LUSH: Fresh Homemade Cosmetics

Are you still looking for holiday gifts? Because. I still have ideas you might like. People bath and like to pamper and groom themselves. (And, the small number who don't ... should!) But not everybody likes perfume or harsh chemicals. LUSH makes gentle, fresh smelling personal care items that you could probably eat!

The creators of LUSH began their careers making soap, shampoo, conditioner and body butter for The Body Shop before launching their own company. (Years ago when I first stepped into a LUSH store, my nose picked up the familiar early Body Shop scent, which in time disappeared from the B.S.) All the soaps, shampoos, hair masks, face and body moisturizers, shaving creams, lip and body balms, as well as, the makeup is made fresh by hand using only botanical, 100% vegetarian and cruelty-free ingredients and methods.

Not only are the LUSH beauty elixirs pure, natural and gentle, they are such a pretty presentation to receive. I can't imagine a normal human being on our planet not loving an assorted basket of emollients put together by a caring friend/spouse, offspring, or sibling. Are you out there, you rare person?

Also, I think if you don't know exactly what the giftee might like, you can safely pick out items you like in this shop! Give a basket of LUSH goodies to someone in your household, and perhaps ... just perhaps s/he will let you use some of the products too. But if not, you can return to LUSH after the holidays for yourself. These bath/skin/hair treats are good for you and the environment. 

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Making Springerle

Photo: - This is what store bought Springerle look like.
This Christmas I baked German springerle for the very first time. Easy and inexpensive to make, the cookies originate from Southern Germany. As an adult, I prefer Christmas cookies that are less gooey and sweet. Springerle fits the bill. The taste of anise (a spice also used in candy) is unique. Here is the recipe:



1 tablespoon butter

3 cups confessionary sugar (If out of confessionary sugar, substitute 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar.)
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon of anise oil (or 3 teaspoons crushed anise seeds, or 1 1/2 teaspoons of anise extract)
3 cups all-purpose flour
In no way do my springerle look like the pros, but they are as delicious. 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 teaspoon salt

Optional: 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (not in the traditional cookies)

Extra flour to knead and roll the dough.


1) Cream together the butter, sugar and eggs.

2) Add the anise (and optional vanilla).

3) Dissolve the baking soda in the milk and add it. Next, combine the flour and salt into the mixture.

4) Form into a ball. Sprinkle with the extra flour to be able to touch and work with the dough. Turn out onto a flat surface and knead until elastic (about 5 minutes). Sprinkle with flour to keep the dough from sticking.

5) Using a rolling pin, roll flat about 1/2 inch thick.

6) With a springerle mold/cutter cut the cookies and press an image into the dough. (You will then get those beautiful cookies on top↑.)

Note: Unfortunately, I don't own real springerle molds, so I use a cookie cutter that has 3 reversible winter templates (i.e. stamps)↗ to press an image into the cookies. If I run across springerle molds, I'll buy them for next year. 

If you lack a mold or stamp, try curving an image (recessive, not a protruding design) into a raw potato half to press an image onto the cookies. Another option is to cut the dough into diamond shaped cookies without the traditional designs. (Some of the charm is lost, but they taste the same. Sprinkle powder sugar on top to dress up the diamonds.)

7) Lay the cookies on parchment paper or a silicone baking mat on a cookie sheet. Let the unbaked cookies sit and dry for 12 - 24 hours. This is necessary for the image to set and not bake away.

8) Pop the trays into a 250 degree F oven and bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until the dough becomes a cookie. The finished cookies should be white, not golden brown.

I think of a springerle as an adult Christmas cookie. Anise is a sophisticated flavor, and despite the cookie having enough sugar, it doesn't taste super sweet. I like the cookie's moist, soft texture and aromatic, anise spice. Plus, you get a big cookie!🎁

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

3 Last Minute Gift Ideas

If I have no idea whatsoever what someone else might like as a gift, I buy them something I would like. Here are 3 more holiday gift ideas for you, dear readers, who are scratching your heads. At this point, you will need to find them in-store, or you could wrap up a little box with an I.O.U. printout of the image and description inside -- while ordering the item online for delivery. Frankly, that's what I would do. Likely it will arrive after Christmas, but you have the I.O.U. gift box to give to your giftee, and I don't think anybody minds when presents keep coming after Christmas. I know I don't! Often you enjoy the anticipation as much as the gift. 

First up is something always near and dear to my heart, beauty products. I mean, who isn't always trying to improve one's appearance or hold on to whatever youth is still left!πŸ˜πŸ‘ΈπŸ»

1) Innisfree Hydrating Green Tea Sleeping Pack - (the above photo↑) - Top-notch certified organic skincare from Korea that won't break the bank. Infused with lots of anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals extracted from Jeju green tea. Super moisturizing. Slatter the face cream on before bed and wake with a dewy, nourished complexion. Suitable for all skin types. If you know a secure man, I think he might like a little pampering too. Winter is drying on skin, period, male and female alike.
2) Excelvan Frozen Dessert Maker - If I had counter space for this ice cream, frozen yogurt, pureed fruit maker, I'd order one for myself in a heartbeat. Instead, it must go to a friend who has a bigger kitchen with more storage/counter space. Turn any frozen fruit into a creamy ice cream-like dessert. Need I say more? This gadget sells itself!
3) Xenvo Ultra Lens Kit - 4K HD Macro Lens + Wide Angle Lens Kit for iPhone, Android, Samsung Mobile - A fantastic tech gift for a smartphone photographer which these days is everyone!

Three desirable gifts I'd love to receive myself and therefore would be thrilled to see someone else open. What are your gift ideas?πŸŽ„

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Friday, December 15, 2017

A Charging Valet Station

Organization is the key to having a lovely home. Everything we possess needs a place of its own, which saves time, energy, frustration and money. (Have you ever re-bought an item because you couldn’t remember having one, or find it?) Sometimes the cords for all of our devices look sloppy. This faux leather charging valet station from Brouk organizes and hides those unsightly cords.
The cords of up to 4 iPhones feed into one main cord, which pokes out of the back to plug into a wall. Store all the other cords in the drawer. Plus, park a few other essentials such as house and car keys, or sunglasses there as well. The charging station comes with a 4-prong power strip and cord and is available in 6 colors.
Home Depot sells an attractive bamboo charging station ... nice, sturdy and inexpensive to house both iPhones and an iPad.

As you can see here on Amazon, there are a few different looks and price points of valet charging stations to suit every home. Consider it another great holiday gift ideal.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Scottish Shortbread

Photo: Nikki
When I was a teenager, I began helping my Mama make Christmas cookies. Mostly, we worked separately, not together. One person might peer into the kitchen to see how it was going, but the cookie baker did her own thing, while the other person walked in and out. Over the years, some cookies fell to my Mama to make, and she would ask me to make certain varieties I hit upon that she liked. 

My Mama made the best butter cookies, and I don't know how to make them since she always did it. Plus, I don't have the patience to decorate them. The cookie varieties I make are done the moment, I pull a tray out of the oven. After I bake a cookie, it's annoying to have yet another step before they are ready to eat. I've mixed, laid out the dough, baked, washed bowls ... I mean, the work is done. Mom can handle starting over to decorate baked cookies. Her butter cookies are festive and delicious. What a fancy-pants, fusspot ... going back to decorate done cookies.😊

Well, this year for first time, I made a butter cookie for Christmas. But bah humbug, I'm still not going to decorate it. Therefore I made Scottish Shortbread. Same ingredients, but no colored icing, no sprinkles, no chocolate chip eyes. Just a good traditional butter cookie. Here is the recipe:

Scottish Shortbread
Photo: Gooseberry Patch


1/2 cup butter (= 4 ounces)
1/4 cup sugar (= 2 ounces)
1 cup all-purpose flour
a sprinkle of salt
Extra flour for the rolling surface.

Optional: I add 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1 egg and 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds (none are in traditional Scottish Shortbread)

I can't get the dough to form a ball without the egg. My mom never makes butter cookies without vanilla, and my friends like the ground flax seeds, so lately I add some to all the white flour recipes I make. (For authentic Scottish Shortbread, leave these optional ingredients out.)


1) Cream together the butter and sugar. Add vanilla and egg if desired.

2) Combine the flour and salt. Toss in 2 tablespoons of optional ground flax seeds.

3) Add the dry to the wet ingredients until you produce a dough. 

4) Knead for 5 minutes. If the dough gets soft, refrigerate it for a few minutes, then knead again for a minute before rolling the dough out flat on a surface. Aim for 1/2 inch thickness.πŸŽ„πŸ‘‘πŸ«

5) Cut into 1-inch width rectangle stripes. Eyeball it. Place on an ungreased baking sheet about 1-inch apart. Prick the cookies with a fork.

6) Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 20 - 25 minutes.

Sometimes there's nothing better than a simple butter cookie. I will enjoy making these Scottish Shortbread cookies for Christmas (and teas during the year). If you must be a fancy-pants, fuss-pot (Mom) dip half of each shortbread cookie in melted dark chocolate mixed with a bit of cooking paraffin.
For a Christmas batch, I tossed in 1/4 cup of ground walnuts and 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds.
Double or triple the recipe for Christmas cookies. A single portion is the perfect amount to bake for teas. Tastier than most store-bought cookies and easy!

Photo: Mother Earth News

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Beauty Advent Calendars

Many retailers offer Countdown Advent Calendars or 12 Days of Christmas Calendars with gifts of makeup and/or skin care. For a beauty enthusiast, receiving an advent calendar of beauty items, one per day, feels like winning a lottery! Here are the top 2 impressive ones: 

1) Let's begin with the holy grail from Liberty (see top photo↑). Expensive at £169, which is $226.22 for 24 days of gifts. A click on the Liberty link here shows you what a magnificent presentation it is. The makeup and skin care contained in it is top-notch of lesser-known, up-and-coming brands giving a beauty aficionado the chance to discover fantastic new products. Wow, people are selling just the empty box on eBay for $60 bucks!

2) Estee Lauder - Created another festive package. The multi-dimensional star is a big ornament made of sturdy cardboard with 25 hidden compartments of goodies! Estee Lauder is the parent company of several famous cosmetics: Not only the Estee Lauder line, but Clinique, Origins, MAC, Bobbi Brown, Aveda, Bumble and bumble, Darphin, Smashbox, Michael Kors and GlamGlow, therefore the holiday star contains 25 wonderful products from all these lines! Cost: $270 per box. 

Good luck getting your hands on the #1- Liberty or #2- Estee Lauder Advent Calendars as they are wildly popular. At this point, I'm seeing them marked up in price on eBay. (Make a mental note to look for next year's Limited Editions in October 2018.) But don't fret ... there are tons of other fetching Advent Calenders with makeup and skin care items that are equally desirable, not as pricey and still available. Here are some to consider:
3) Ole Henrikson 12 Days of OLE Glow Skincare Advent Calendar - From Denmark, an assortment of 12 cleansing and nourishing skin care products, including mini sizes of facial scrub, botanical moisturizers, hydrating gels and anti-aging serums. Sells for $49.

4) Ulta 12 Days Of Beauty - A box of fun, trendy holiday tinted and generously sized blush, crayons, illuminators, glitter eyeliners, matte lip cream and metallic lip gloss. Price: $13.50
5) NYX Professional Makeup Lippie Countdown Advent Calendar - 24 days of NYX's most loved lip colors, including glosses, creams, matte and bright vamps. Usually $65, but $45 at Ulta.

A fun roundup of the Best Advent Calendars of 2017 can be watched here.

Something for every budget. Any of the choices make pleasing gifts! More is not always better, but it's certainly gooood.πŸ˜‰

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Gifts For Travelers +

Do you have family who flies? Two awesome holiday gifts for the folks in your life going on a long flight include: 
1) The Trtl Travel Pillow - It is half the size of the usual travel pillow and designed to support the neck by holding it in an ergonomic position during rest. The soft felt-like fabric is machine washable and comes in 4 colors. Moreover, a passenger looks like a normal person using one.

2) Go2 Elite Compression Socks - For men and women, these colorful stockings reduce the swelling and leg pain many flyers experience due to high attitudes. They are 15-20mmhg compression stocks that are also perfect for people who stand on their feet all day, runners and athletes, as well as, pregnant women. Available in 30 colors and patterns. They are made of the highest quality fabric but sell for less than the usual cost, which helps your wallet as compression socks need to be replaced after repeated use.
Great quality, price and benefits, plus stylish for all your family and friends who find themselves Up In The Air. Or buy them for yourself.

The travel pillow would be great for long car rides also, and the compression socks to go on long hikes in the mountains and walks on city pavement. Whether up in the air or down: prevention is better than a cure! Be good to the body, and it will be good to you!

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