August 1, 2013

I'm not bad for 57...

Yesterday, Blog, I saw on Yahoo News that people were praising 80s beauty Bo Derek for looking amazing at the age of 56. Well, I'm still 56 for the next 17 days, so I was curious to see how Bo looked. Particularly since about six months ago I started a personal campaign to improve my skin. So, here's the photo of Bo that accompanied the report:

Don't get me wrong, Bo Derek is a much more beautiful woman than I ever was or will be. And I think she still looks great. That said, I looked at this photo and thought, "Whoa! I guess my beauty routine is working!"

Blog, the point of this post is not to crow, but to share what I've been doing since I guess I've proven it's successful. I know there are plenty of women in the same spot I was in six months ago, asking themselves, "Can't I look younger without surgery and/or horrifically expensive salon appointments and products?" I am totally turned off by ideas like chemical peels and botox injections, and Blog, if you had a face you would be too.

So, by contrast, here's a shot taken today of me, with no makeup whatsoever, and no Photoshopping.

I dare you to click on it and see the bigger version. Scrutinize, compare. Not bad, eh, Blog? Especially considering I never go anywhere without makeup and here I am, boldly sharing my naked face.

If Bo's face is that of a typical 56 year old--well golly.

Okay, now let's talk about my skin care regimen, which I guarantee will NOT give you the same facial features as I have, so if you're as pretty as Bo, just imagine how you'll look!


1. I wash my face in the shower, so this is when I use my Spa Sonic, which I purchased for $50 at Walgreens. This is a cheaper and just-as-good alternative to the $120-200 Clairsonic. I read that this sort of "skin brush" system is really worth the investment and I believe it. I'll explain a little later why. For soap I just use my regular bath gel.

2. Using a cotton ball, I apply a toner that aids in cleaning pores and helping dead skin cells to slough off. My choice based on web research was Clinique's Clarifying Lotion. The large bottles are $22.50 but they last quite a long time. The stuff really refreshes skin without a drying effect.

3. I finish with moisturizer over my whole face and neck, and a "serum" (more concentrated moisturizer) around my eyes and mouth where the skin doesn't produce much natural oil. I've tried a number of products for this and to be honest, I just look for generics and on-sale options. Those Walgreens and Target equivalents of the pricey stuff seem to work just as well, and they save you a lot of bucks, Blog.

4. About skin color correction: I went through a whole bottle of the highly-recommended Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector and didn't really notice much difference. I guess I just have to rely on makeup for that!

Speaking of, here's my made-up face...still without any Photoshopping...  Now look at Bo, who is, after all, wearing makeup. Now look back at me. Yeah.


1. I wash my face nightly with Clinique 7-Day Scrub Cream. If you splurge on only one facial care product in this post, this would be it. Forget about your St. Ive's Apricot Scrub--for one thing, I read that it really tears up your skin. I've tried it, and a lot of other scrubs, and nothing compares to 7-Day Scrub Cream. It feels great, washes off super easily, and really does the job with exfoliation. So part with the $19.50. It hurts, I know, but it's worth it.

2. I use makeup remover to make sure I'm not leaving anything behind. This is a new thing for me, and I've been using Clinique's Take the Day Off Makeup Remover. I like that it doesn't leave my face feeling oily. I have nothing to compare it to really, so if you have a better option than the $18 this costs (again, it lasts a long time), go for it.

3. Then it's a repeat of the toner and moisturizers. I do use a "night cream" at night, which translates to "moisturizer that leaves your face shinier than you want your daytime moisturizer to do." My pillow doesn't mind if my face is shiny, Blog.


I am a maniac about sunscreen: SPF 30 goes on my face if I'm planning on being outside for more than a few minutes.  But thanks to the wonders of chemistry, I do sport a pretty nice looking fake tan. On my daughter's recommendation, I purchased Neutrogena Build a Tan from Target for a mere $8, and I'm sure it will get me through at least one summer.

I used it every three days till I built up a good tan, and now refresh by using once a week.  All over, so no tan lines! It is almost scentless, doesn't stain your hands or clothes, and feels fine on my skin, especially if followed by body lotion. Genius!

Bo Derek, as you may recall, sported a very dark tan back when she starred in "10." And I fear maybe in the intervening years she skimped on the sunscreen a bit. Take my word for it, folks--sun protection is #1 for delaying the effects of aging on your skin!


You may have heard of this contraption, which is sold and marketed by another celebrity of yore, Suzanne Somers. The Facemaster uses microcurrent--low electrical charges from batteries--to stimulate the skin. This is actually a tried-and-true technique employed for year by salons and professional beauty technicians. As I understand it, the microcurrent (a) causes muscle-twitching that exercises and firms muscles, and (b) stimulates the production of collagen, which is what gives younger faces tone and smoothness.

All I know is, gosh darn it the thing really works. I use it faithfully 15 minutes every other day, and I have absolutely seen results. It reduces small wrinkles like crow's feet and mouth lines. It also builds up the tone of the face which actually works like a face lift. With more collagen in your face, your wrinkles and folds just fill out.

Plus, it's really refreshing to use, especially in the morning when your face could use a wake-up. I sit at my computer desk, put a slide show on my screensaver, turn on Sirius XM Spa, and enjoy.

The Facemaster retails for a daunting $200. But here's a tip: I found a slightly used one on eBay for only $50! A lot of people find they just can't keep to the regimen of regular use and so decide to sell their units. Frankly, with what I've experienced, I'd pay $200 for one...but $50 was way better, Blog.


Occasionally I will treat myself to other beauty treatments that a person can do at home:

1. Facial steam--Fill a sink or large bowl with very hot water. Add your favorite essential oil if you like. Place your head over the water (not in!) and cover head and bowl/sink with a large towel. This opens pores and is great for preceding a facial.

2. Deep cleaning facials--There are lots of reasonably priced facial products around, and again you can snag bargains if you watch sales or shop at places like T.J. Maxx. You can also find lots of recipes for make your own facials online. I like mud facials in particular...feels like you're deep cleaning your pores.

3. Aspirin facial--This is my personal fave home facial, Blog. Aspirin contains salicylic acid, the main ingredient in acne treatments and chemical peels, but much milder. Just crunch about seven uncoated aspirins to powder and mix with a lotion like Oil of Olay. Spread on your face, leave ~10 minutes, and wash off thoroughly. This treatment, combined with the exfoliation in your normal routine (toner, face scrub, face brush) over time works just like expensive, drastic chemical peels. It all works together to keep fresh skin cells exposed rather than buried under the old-looking, dead ones.

That's it! So my equipment outlay was $100 and the ongoing expenses are perfectly manageable. I probably added about an hour and a quarter to my weekly time spent on grooming, which is sure worth it as far as I'm concerned. The routine is actually pretty enjoyable...

Especially because it works, Blog!  Even on non-movie stars like me.

Anyone else have tips for skin care, please do share in the comments!

May 8, 2013

We turned our patio into a CATio!

Blog, this spring we could wait no longer to create an outdoor space for our cats that would permanently and completely thwart their escape attempts. While Cody is pretty well trained to stay on the concrete pad, and the girls are a bit on the lazy/homebody side, new resident Archie gave us no indication that he wouldn't take off after the first bird that appealed to his wild Tabbysinian breeding.

So, it was time to turn our patio into a catio! Well Blog, I puzzled and researched and found that there wasn't anything similar online to our situation that offered a good solution. You see, the Magic House patio is surrounded by house walls on two sides and an evergreen hedge on 80% of the hypotenuse of the space. All we needed was a way to make the hedge impenetrable, as well as a means of closing up the entry gap.

After much thought and deliberation, I determined all we needed was these four items you see on the left, and a cat gate. Not much expense at all from Amazon, and pretty simple! So here's how it went down, Blog....

After much thought, I decided the least visually obtrusive way to deal with the hedge was bird netting. I got a package of black Bird-X netting in a 7' x 20' piece. I started by cutting the piece in half the long way, yielding 40 feet of netting that was 3.5 feet in height. I took Makai's nylon paracord in a nice dark moss color, and wove it through the netting on the bottom edge. Yes, that was time-consuming, Blog.

I ran this netting under the hedge, as far back from the edge of the patio as it would go, and tacked it down with Dalen steel garden staples, keeping the cord as tight as possible. I got 20 staples for the approximately 35 feet of hedge we have, and I'm going to supplement them with another 20 just to keep that cord snug to the ground.

Lastly, I filled in all the gaps under the hedge with netting, by hooking it on branches and affixing it with green Velcro plant ties here and there to hold securely. Yes, Blog, that was also time-consuming. The toughest part was blocking the area between hedge and house. Naturally that weak point was the first place Archie tested the system, so I had to adjust it immediately. Naughty tripod kitty...well, can't really blame him for being curious on the first venture outside since he made his home with us!

The entry way to the patio was the final issue, and happily while I was installing the netting, FedEx delivered the new cat gate! I used a Cardinal Versagate pet gate because it is stable, has flexible side panels, and has narrow gaps between the bars to block small tuxedo and Tabbysinian cats. That was ALSO time-consuming, Blog--I can't really recommend this gate on the grounds of easy assembly. However, it did work out to be just the perfect design for the job.

So, now we have a catio where cats will be able to play and rest contentedly with minor supervision, and humans will no longer be required to watch with vigilance and give the felines timeouts when they try to sneak away. Spring weather has arrived late in Wisconsin, Blog, but we were prepared for that first 70-degree day so our guests and cats could party together in perfect harmony!

April 22, 2013

Cutting board tablet holder tutorial

Whaddaya know, Blog--I've been crafting! Specifically, crafting this nifty copycat of a tablet holder sold by Pottery Barn. It fills a crucial need, as lately I've been doing a lot of pinning of recipes on Pinterest, and it's high time I figured out a way to cook right off the web. This little jobby really serves the purpose. Here's how my daughter Manzi and I made a pair for our Nook tablet and Kindle:

You start with a wooden cutting board, the paddle-shaped kind with a hole in the handle. I bought two of these on Amazon for an excellent price. You also need some wood pieces to make the little tray in which you will prop your tablet. If you only need to hang your holder, that's all the elements required, but if you'd like the option of standing the holder up on a table, you'll need a way to do that. I had the bright idea to get small wooden easels, which I purchased on eBay.

By sawing it off with my Dremel, I took the "cross bar" piece (upon which you would rest a picture) off so the easel could be mounted flat on the back of the cutting board. That wood bar, paired with a chunk of old yardstick, made for a perfect table-propping bracket, as you see in the photo. We used Gorilla Glue and small nails to put everything together. The Kindle and Nook fit precisely in their slots!

We painted the assembled holders with leftover kitchen cabinet paint: off-white glossy acrylic. The most fun part was antiquing! I used a sandpaper sponge so it would curve nicely around the edges so I could really remove a nice amount of paint. Then I mixed up some very diluted, very dark brown acrylic paint, painted it on and wiped it off, section by section, to complete the antiquing effect. In the photo, Blog, you will see before and after the antiquing process. After painting, I added small cushy stick-on foot pads to the legs of the easel to prevent slippage.

Using a couple magnets to support the hole and the easel-back, I am able to securely mount the holder on the side of the refrigerator. It could also hang on a nail on the wall. However you choose to use it, the holder makes it easy to keep your tablet in view while you cook.

Technology and crafting, in a perfect marriage, hey Blog?

February 14, 2013

My seven most important life lessons

Blog, seven of the last eight winters I've had to deal with some challenges. Work crises, ill health, death of a loved one, and so on. Oh joy, 2013 is proving to be another one. It's times like these that put me in mind of the most important things I've learned from my 56 years of an oft-times challenging life. Pull up whatever it is that a blog is most comfortable sitting on, and I'll give it to ya straight.

1.  To thine own self be true. I won't pretend I thought of this one, but it's so very important. If you don't face up to your own faults, look them in the eye, and deal with them, they will destroy you eventually. There's such hopelessness in people who delude themselves about their own character. That primary lie leads to a life built on falsities, an existence riddled with wrong conclusions and bad choices. And not only should a person be honest with himself, he should be wary of people who are not. There's a world of problems there you just don't want to have to deal with.

2.  Be interested in as much as you possibly can. People, subjects, activities...try to be curious and explore and inquire. No need to force yourself out of your comfort zone; I'm very risk-averse but can find loads of things to be interested in outside of extreme sports and adventure travel. (Well, I like hearing about extreme sports and adventure travel!) And I'm very much an introvert, but I discipline myself to keep up human connections. Keeping yourself connected to others and the world around you serves to keep you from shutting yourself in your own little world, where you could end up very lonely and longing for purpose.

3.  Humanity is made up of Users and Usees...get to know the players. Usees are goodhearted, generous people who live by the Golden Rule, thinking of others' needs and not necessarily their own. Users are people who are, for whatever reason, mostly focused on their own happiness. And it seems like when in the presence of Usees, they can't help but take advantage. So it's important for nice people to develop the ability to not always take the Nice Road. Once you've pegged someone as a User, you have to watch out for your own interests--they are just as important as anyone else's.

4. Karma is real--trust it, and don't get in its way. I don't necessarily believe in karma as a supernatural force--it's just that every action has consequences, and chickens always come home to roost eventually. If you do good things and make the world a better place, some of that will come back to you for sure, so take heart. Meanwhile, with #3 above in mind, remember it's important not to interfere with karma's work to reward the good behavior and chasten the bad. Protecting people from the bad consequences of their misdeeds is not your responsibility. It's the opposite: the world only gets better if people learn not to make bad choices and do mean things.

5. Make smart decisions, with an eye to the "long view." Pay attention and take the good path at each fork in the road, asking yourself what the long term consequences will be. This really will make a difference in your life. One wrong choice that seems insignificant in the moment can drastically alter the rest of your life--just ask a pregnant teen, a drunk driver who hit someone, or a drug addict. I know it's common sense that smart choices lead to success...and yet we live in a world of people with maxed-out credit cards, don't we? Too many people can't think past today. Learn to do so, and your 20-years-older self will be a much, much happier person. You'll feel pretty good right now, too.

6. Put the kibosh on these behaviors: bitterness, self-loathing, envy, passive-aggressiveness. Some "negative" emotions can be constructive, I think. Grief is necessary and natural. Anger can be therapeutic and can be channeled into positive action. But bitterness only poisons the person harboring it. Self-loathing only cripples one's ability to improve. Envy is usually misplaced--the person you envy is probably as unhappy as you are, so you're wasting your energy. And passive-aggressiveness is a self-deluding game (see #1 above) that accomplishes nothing good.

7. Never commit suicide while you're depressed. This is an old joke of my dad's--one that has a point. Recognize when you are simply bummed out, and don't try to make decisions when in that state. Instead, focus on doing whatever you need to do to feel better. Action can wait until your head's on straight.

Blog, I've done a decent job with most of these principles during my life, but I tell you, I can trace at least 75% of my unhappiness to the consequences of my neglecting them. 'Bout time I passed them on, I guess! Carry on, Blog, and good luck.

January 27, 2013

How to have a MacGyver Party!

Blog, for the first time ever I think I've come up with something never before imagined by mankind. The MacGyver Party! I dare anyone to prove I didn't think of this first! Well, enough's time now to tell everyone just how they can host their own and wow their friends and family with the amazing fun.

The inspiration for a MacGyver Party is, of course, the hit 80's show about a secret agent whose special talent is creating useful gadgets from everyday items at hand. And that's exactly what you and your guests will do! Here's how it went down at Magic House:

For Christmas I gave each of my daughters a MacGyver Basket. Said basket contained:

1 ticket to MacGyver Lunch
1 sturdy hanger with clips on it (like for pants)
1 "food saver" container
1 CD
1 magnet
1 sports bottle top
1 metal binder clip
1 balloon
2 wine glasses
2 socks (1 pretty, 1 plain)
2 votive candles
Decorative gravel (in baggie)
Kitty litter (in baggie)
Length of yarn

Random, hey blog? What can come of this? Well, that's the fun of it: your guests will be stumped. The other fun of this is that with a little effort you can find everything you need, including the basket, for under $15 a person. Tip: The toughest part for me was finding the sports bottle tops, but I bought them online from Dick's Sporting Goods.


So, start the party with some lunch, maybe a couple healthy dishes like Jeff Mauro's Mini Veggie Burgers with Cuke Sauce and BBQ Kale Chips.

After the meal, prepare the table by laying down newspaper or paper bags at each place, to protect the tabletop. Give each person a pair of scissors and a needle big enough for sewing with yarn. Set out Gorilla Glue and clear packing tape to share. In advance you'll also need to prepare the labels you see below, have cookbook, sunglasses, and cell phone handy, and (optional) have a pet toy for each participant who owns a cat or small dog.

So, the girls had their baskets at the ready and it was time to be MacGyverettes!!!

PROJECT #1 - Cookbook Hanger

Get your guests stoked with with the easiest project of all. Tell them to grab their hangers, then take yours and show them how it works in your kitchen...

Yes, that's all there is to it, Blog! The hanger works great to suspend a lightweight cookbook or a recipe or two at whatever handy spot in your kitchen you choose. Wowzers.

PROJECT #2 - Refrigerator Clip / Pet Toy 

Glue the binder clip (I got these pretty ones at Target) to a nice, powerful magnet using Gorilla Glue. Set aside to'll be able to finish this project up in like a half an hour. The clip works to hang something from your fridge that doesn't hang too well by magnet alone, like thick cardboard.

While you're at the gluing, now's also the time to glue the sports bottle top to the CD, like you see in the photo. (Don't make the mistake we did and try this with superglue. Gorilla Glue is the only adhesive for this job, and make sure the seal is firm and tight all the way around the topper. No need to be neat!)

Back to the Refrigerator Clip: It also works great to attach a pet toy via a piece of the provided yarn, so it will dangle from the fridge door and provide kitties or pups with hours of fun. Man, did our Archie the Three-Legged Cat love it!

PROJECT #3 - Glasses Case

To do this project you'll need to have a rudimentary knowledge of sewing: enough to be able to thread a needle with yarn, tie a knot in the end, and whipstitch an edge. Take your sock, put your sunglasses inside, and trim down the cuff to the desirable length with your scissors.

Whipstitch the edge so it doesn't unravel. Ta-da, an easy case to protect sunglasses or reading glasses from getting scratched in your car, purse or drawer!

PROJECT #4 - Electronic Device Resuscitator

You may never use this thing, Blog, but if you ever have need of it, you'll be SO glad you kept it handy! Take your food saver container, and with clear packing tape apply the label (prepared in advance by the hostess, of course) to the lid. Put the other sock from your basket and the bag of kitty litter inside.

Heaven fore-fend you should ever get your phone, iPod, or other gadget wet (like when I dropped my continuous glucose monitor in the toilet)...but if you do, rush to this kit. Dry off the gadget, turn it off if still on, remove the battery, and put gadget and battery inside the sock. Fold it over securely. Dump the litter in the container, bury the sock in it, close the box and leave it overnight. The sock will keep the gadget dust-free, and the litter will absorb all the water. There is a decent chance your device, like my DexCom, will be revived after being reassembled and rebooted!

PROJECT #5 - Wine Glass Candelabra

Decorative gravel, votive candles, and wine glasses combine to make a lovely table decoration, as your guests will see in seconds! Just watch my sleight-of-hand:

Ta-da! Masterfully completed in nanoseconds and ready to inspire romance!

PROJECT #6 - CD Hovercraft

Yes, Blog, I said hovercraft. Let's go back to the sports bottle tops glued to the CDs, and get out our balloons. Simply make sure the top is pushed down (closed)...blow up the balloon and put it over the top securely...set it on a flat surface...and pull up on the top (without pulling off the balloon). Release and watch the fun! Especially if a cat is present!

OMG, what an awesome party this was! Now your guests can pack up their six way cool contrivances in their baskets and go home with new swag and a sense of cleverness and accomplishment! Thanks, Mr. MacGyver, for the inspiration!

And I bet you never heard of anything like this before, didja, Blog?