Monthly Archives: April 2016

Why I ‘Like’/Hate Facebook

Facebook was never envisioned as a community for us older folks—perish the thought! But that’s what happened. A lot of Millennials, including my own kids, have little interest in it. After all, they have myriad social media options these days and they aren’t old enough to be nostalgic.

Those of us who’ve now lived a proverbial nine lives—childhood, college/post-grad, several jobs, a few moves, countless Continue reading

Easy Peasy

What could be more springy and inviting than the cheerful green color of peas? This quick and easy recipe uses fresh or frozen peas to capture the brightness of the season.

Easy Peasy Quick Pea Soup


  • ½ cup minced Vidalia onion or shallots
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 TBSP minced garlic
  • 4+ cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 bags (about 2 lbs.) of frozen peas or equivalent amount of fresh, shelled peas
  • 1-2 tsp kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • Tiny splash of fresh lemon juice
  • Optional: Greek yogurt; chopped scallions or chives; parsley; sliced ham, pancetta or prosciutto


  1. Sauté the onion or shallots in 1-2 TBSP of olive oil until they begin to soften.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute.
  3. Add the chicken stock and peas, 1 tsp each of salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer, add lemon juice and cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add more liquid if soup is too thick. Season to taste if more salt or pepper is desired.
  5. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until creamy.

Optional garnishes:

  1. A dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of chives
  2. Fresh parsley
  3. Crispy ham, pancetta or prosciutto: Heat oven to 425°F. Roast pieces on a baking sheet for about 5 minutes until crisp, and crumble on top.

Yield: approximately 4-6 servings

Pillow Talk

Did you know that by the time your pillow is two years old, half its weight may be comprised of dust mites and skin cells, along with mold or mildew? YUCK. That disgusting fact alerted me that it’s time to replace our pillows. You too? First, I decided to do a little research—and save you the trouble!

Pillows affect sleep quality and how well we rest/recharge. Experts warn that the wrong pillow may contribute to neck and lower back pain, sneezing, and arm or shoulder soreness. Here’s a quick way to see if yours is past its prime:

Do a fluff test. A fluffy pillow means that fresh air can travel through it, which provides better cushioning and support. Fold your pillow in half to see if it unfolds on its own within 30 seconds.

Mine are definitely sluggish. That seals the deal: it’s time to go shopping!

I asked my chiropractor, who treats my chronic neck and shoulder stiffness, what to consider. He explained that you want to sleep with your head in neutral alignment, i.e., not leaning too far forward or back. The key is matching your pillow to your sleep position, which may mean that you and your partner need different types:

Back Sleepers need medium support. If the pillow’s too thick it pushes your head too far forward. If it’s too soft, your head sinks down to the mattress. Extra thickness and firmness in the bottom third will cushion your neck, and a pillow you can smoosh around lets you find the right level of comfort.

Side Sleepers need a firm or super firm pillow to help support the neck. A thicker pillow provides an even sleeping surface to help keep your head, neck and shoulders in a horizontal line.

Stomach Sleepers may not even want a pillow. If you do, choose one that’s soft and fairly flat to keep your neck in line with your spine and prevent extreme turning to either side. Placing a pillow under your stomach may help avoid lower back pain.

Mixed Sleepers (that’s me): People who shift sleeping positions during the night do well with a medium-thick pillow you can move around. If you usually wind up on your stomach, go softer.

Confirm your preferred position:

  1. When you’re about to fall asleep, spend a few minutes in different positions to see which feels most comfortable. If you lie on your back for a half hour and don’t nod off, for example, chances are that’s not your favorite.
  2. Notice your position when you wake up, and keep a list so you can compare over a few days.

Fill ‘er Up: There’s a seemingly endless variety of materials and terminology. Some experts suggest having a pillow “wardrobe” to meet different needs, but that can get awfully expensive. If you generally prefer a soft pillow but suffer from occasional neck pain, try using a travel or throw pillow to add extra support.

Down: Soft, lightweight and lofty, down—the inner plumage of ducks and geese—is the most luxurious of all fills and often the most expensive. “Loft” refers to the height of a pillow when it lies flat; i.e., low loft is thin and high is thick. “Firm” is industry-speak for compact while “plush” is pillow talk for cushier. If you want one that’s tall and squishy, for instance, pick “high loft, plush.” “Low loft, firm” will be thinner and more dense.

A natural insulator, down is resilient, breathable, can be moved around to give you support where you need it, and lasts longer than synthetic fills. The best pillows are supposed to last ten years. However, if you’re going to replace them after two years anyway, why spend a ton?

Fill power measures the volume of a single ounce of down, and more down equals more comfort and insulation. Look for fill power of at least 500. Below that level, the fill may contain a lot of feathers or small, damaged down clusters that won’t stay fluffy.

Feather vs. Down/Feather: Feather pillows aren’t as soft as down, and quills can poke through the fabric. A 50/50 mix is a better bet: it combines the softness of down with the firmness and springy support of feathers. Use pillow protectors to avoid getting jabbed!

Note: I’ve read that there’s no scientific evidence that down or feather pillows exacerbate allergies or asthma but there are lots of synthetic options if you don’t want to take a chance or have ethical concerns.

Down Alternative Fill is made of synthetic or natural fibers designed to mimic the luxurious feeling of down at a lower price. Brand names include Primaloft® and Down-Free™.

Like down alternative, synthetic fills such as polyester are hypoallergenic and machine washable.

Made from polyethylene and other chemicals, memory foam is a dense, sponge-like material that continually molds and adjusts to your head and neck. Pillows come in various shapes and offer good support, especially if you have issues with your neck, shoulder or spine.

New memory foam usually has a chemical odor, which may give you a headache. Before putting them on your bed, let the pillows air out for a few days in another room. Memory foam pillows don’t “breathe” and tend to retain heat. They’re best if you don’t move around a lot since they won’t adapt quickly to a different position.

Foam: Look for higher density to reduce breakdown and maintain support.

Latex pillows, made from the sap of rubber trees, are firm, elastic, resilient and come in different shapes. Latex resists mold and dust mites and may improve back and neck alignment, as pillows are often contoured for neck support. They stay cooler than memory foam but don’t have as much “give”, and they tend to be heavy as well as expensive.

Wool and cotton pillows aren’t susceptible to mold and dust mites so they’re another option for allergy sufferers. They’re generally quite firm—not the best choice if you’re a stomach sleeper or like a squooshy pillow.

Specialty pillows, designed for specific needs, may be helpful but research is inconclusive and they’re often costly. Caveat emptor!

  • Cervical pillows have extra cushioning in the bottom for neck support.
  • Water pillows can be customized for density and support, so they’re often recommended by chiropractors and physical therapists.
  • Cool pillows may be helpful for hot flashes and night sweats.
  • Oxygen-promoting pillows claim to increase oxygen in the blood by up to 29% to help you breathe more deeply.
  • Anti-snore pillows are designed to lift the chin to keep airways open. Worth a try if your significant other is keeping you awake!
  • Positional pillows claim to help people with sleep apnea stay in an ideal position and reduce tossing and turning during the night.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • More expensive isn’t necessarily better.
  • Higher thread count (minimum 300; experts recommend 500-800) means a pillow will feel plusher and be more durable.
  • Try before you buy. If you can’t lie down in the store (and don’t mind looking a little weird!) stand next to a wall in your usual sleep position with your head against the pillow, and ask someone to check if your head is tilting one way or another. It should align with your spine.

I’m dreaming of a good night’s sleep with some fresh, new pillowzzzzz!



Do’s and Don’ts for Your Visit to Lisbon, Porto and Beyond

For my last post about our recent trip to Portugal, I was inspired by the wonderful photography and stories of blogger The Insatiable Traveler and want to share some of my photos along with a few suggestions and observations.

DO pack hiking boots or sturdy shoes to manage the steep hills. I can’t say this enough!

DO eat a hearty breakfast. All our hotels included lavish buffets in the room rate, which set us up perfectly for a day of exploring.


DON’T be intimidated if you don’t speak Portuguese. Learn a few key phrases and politely ask someone if he or she speaks English. Most do, especially in the larger cities.

DON’T speak Spanish instead. There’s a long history of discord with Spain, and Portuguese is not a dialect but its own distinct language.

DO venture into grocery stores. I love seeing how local products are different from the brands I get at home, and people are friendly and helpful.

DO rent a car and tour the beautiful countryside.


DON’T expect world-class museums. If you’re used to the Louvre, Prado, British Museum, Met or Uffizi, you’ll find museums in Lisbon to be charming but not on the same level.

DON’T forget to look up, down and sideways. Many buildings still retain their original azulejos (tiles) and the cobbled streets often have intricate designs.

DON’T you wish your commute was this stunning? The São Bento train station in Porto is covered with tiles depicting festivals, transportation and historic scenes.

DO visit the port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia and go wine tasting in the Douro Valley.


DO try vinho verde, the light, refreshing “green” wine that’s young and slightly effervescent.

DON’T expect high-end shopping. Instead, splurge on local crafts and designers.

DO bring home some hand-painted pottery. Prices are way lower than in the States and the quality is magnificent.


DO have lunch at Casa do Leão when you’re exploring the Castel São Jorge in Lisbon. The food is good and the view over the city is spectacular.

DO visit historic Coimbra, a short drive from Lisbon. It’s home to one of the world’s oldest universities — worth the trip for the ornate chapel and examination hall, medieval library (which maintains a bat colony to eat insects that could destroy the books) and academic prison, where misbehaving students served time. (Good thing this wasn’t my alma mater!)

DO try local specialties, such as porco à alentejana, an unlikely but delicious combination of chopped pork and tiny clams.

DO ride the tram (especially #28), an inexpensive way to tour Lisbon. However, DON’T bother with the pedi-cabs unless you negotiate a price; they can be more costly than a taxi.

DO visit the markets for the vast array of produce, snacks or lunch among the locals, and great people watching.

DO be aware that tips aren’t generally included in the bill. Leave 10%.

DON’T plan on eating dinner early, though it won’t be as late as in Spain. Most restaurants, even in hotels, open around 7:30 p.m.

DO have a fantastic trip and tell us all about it!


Many Ports in a Storm

If, like me, your idea of vacation involves good food and booze, I recommend you spend a couple of days in Porto, Portugal, the beautiful port city famous for port wine (duh).

Technically, we were actually staying in Vila Nova de Gaia on the other side of the Douro River, where – happily – the major port tasting rooms happen to be. We pulled up to The Yeatman, a grand hotel that fairly screams (in a quiet, elegant way) British Colonial Privilege. With its stunning views over the old town and river, it’s described on Trip Advisor as “majestic”, “gorgeous”, “amazing” and “spectacular” with “excellent service”, and it did not disappoint. Having spent 3+ hours in the car driving from Lisbon, we were anxious to get out and explore (code for “drink”).

We strolled down the steep streets to the water’s edge (be warned, it’s a LONG hike back up, especially if you’ve indulged in some wine tasting) to get the party started. Here’s a highly simplified introduction to port, for those of us (a.k.a., me) who didn’t know much about it:

Port is a sweet, fortified wine that’s created when fermentation is interrupted by the addition of brandy, which maintains the residual sugar of the grapes. It’s produced exclusively in the Douro Valley and is regulated by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto. Portuguese winemakers blend a variety of grapes, each adding its own character and flavor, including Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão.

The primary families are white, tawny and ruby.

  • White, made from white grapes, ages for at least three years in wood casks
  • Tawny is made from red grapes that age in wood casks, gradually attaining its characteristic golden brown color. Tawny is always a blend of wines that have aged for different amounts of time, averaging the age (e.g., 10, 20, 30 years) shown on the label. Taste for notes of caramel and nut
  • Ruby maintains the fruit, color and strength of young wines. Expect berry and chocolate flavors
    • Vintage is produced from a single year’s harvest and bottled two years later. Not every year is considered good enough to be “vintage”. It improves as it ages in the bottle and a good bottle can be enjoyed decades later
    • Reserve is similar to Vintage though it’s bottled later and is generally best to drink soon after release
    • LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) is bottled 4-6 years after the harvest. It can be left to age (though only for a few years) but is ready to drink when released

All should be served at a cool room temperature, about 60°F. Port’s inherent sweetness lends itself to pairings with many types of cheese; desserts with fruit, chocolate or caramel; nuts; even barbecue or other sweet/smoky foods. Check out more suggestions and info at Wine Folly’s excellent website.

We only stopped at three tasting rooms since there’s a limit to how much sweet wine either of us could drink in an afternoon, and trudged back up the hill to relax at The Yeatman’s indoor infinity pool with views of the river, plus a curious peacock out on the lawn who couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t peck his way into the spa.

We concluded Day One with dinner at the Yeatman’s Michelin-starred restaurant, which began with several chef’s “surprises” (below, four of the 13 courses)



I’m sorry to report that after eating such a rich meal, both my husband and I — “surprise!”– were hugging the toilet bowl a few hours later. But even though that was about $350 literally down the drain, I’d still rate it a memorable experience. Especially if your stomach is stronger than mine.

A few random travel tips for your next adventure:

  1. Pack a sleep aid (acetaminophen PM or prescription) if you have trouble adjusting to a new bed, room temperature, etc.
  2. Always have snacks and chewable antacids on hand. Traveling with me is like traveling with a toddler; I get REALLY cranky when I’m hungry.
  3. Have an extra book on hand in case of delays.
  4. Pack a corkscrew for that “emergency” bottle of wine to keep in your hotel room.
  5. Carry a magnifying glass so you can read the teeny-tiny street names on maps.
  6. One of my favorite products is Pure Illumination, a light-up lip gloss/ lip moisturizer with a mirror that also doubles as a night light.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I don’t get paid by any of the companies or products I mention; they’re just things I want to share with you. Bon voyage!